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BY SAM SPOKONY | The city’s Department of Education is not planning to fund a public school within the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, or SPURA, until at least 2020. But local politicians and Lower East Side school advocates say the commitment should be made right now.
A recent D.O.E. statement on the issue came in response to this newspaper’s question about why funding for the future school was not included in the agency’s proposed 2015-2019 capital budget, which will be finalized next summer. SPURA is mentioned in the capital budget, but that is as far as D.O.E. has gone, with regard to the potential school.
“Based on our understanding of the housing to be built in the SPURA redevelopment area, and the existing school capacity in that area, we believe a new school will not be needed until the 2020-2024 Capital Plan period,” said D.O.E. in the Dec. 3 statement. “As noted in the Capital Plan, we are watching this development closely, and update our projections annually.”
However hesitant D.O.E. may be to fund a school as part of the development project, a 15,000-square-foot space at the corner of Clinton and Grand Sts. was, in fact, set aside for a new school when the city announced the overall SPURA development proposal earlier this year.
Along with various retail and commercial components, a total of 1,000 new residential units are planned to be built at SPURA, a 1.65 million-square-foot swath of land around Delancey St. near the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge. More than half of those residential units are expected to be completed by summer 2018, according to the city’s Economic Development Corporation.
Out of the total number of new housing units, 100 will be designated solely for senior citizens — a factor that may have contributed to D.O.E.’s views on the potential need for a new school within the development.
In fact, the current text of D.O.E.’s proposed budget for 2015-2019 states that city-owned land at the SPURA site has been reserved for future school construction “should it be deemed necessary.”
But many local school advocates and elected officials believe that a school within SPURA is not only necessary, but should be funded as soon as possible.
“Smart development means anticipating and addressing projected community impacts before they reach a critical point,” said Councilmember Margaret Chin. “That is why I worked with the SPURA Task Force to strongly advocate for a public school as part of the project — to serve the hundreds of working families that will make this community their home in the coming years. It is important that the city develop these new school seats in the SPURA site now, rather than waiting until school overcrowding is at a crisis.”
Chin had previously signed on to a Nov. 27 letter to D.O.E. — along with state Senator Daniel Squadron (who organized the letter), Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Borough President Scott Stringer and Councilmember Rosie Mendez — urging the agency to include funding for the SPURA school in its 2015-2019 budget.
Lisa Donlan, president of the District 1 Community Education Council, summed up the collective frustration of school advocates by stating that they simply don’t trust D.O.E.’s decisions on this — or practically any — issue of new school construction.
“D.O.E. has been wrong on so many of their projections in so many neighborhoods, regardless of what kind of data parents have shown them, so it’s just hard to have any confidence at all in what they’re stating in this case,” she said.
While explaining her fears of future overcrowding for Lower East Side schools, Donlan alluded to another Lower Manhattan neighborhood that has already suffered from a lack of school seats while its residential population quickly swelled.
“We keep telling D.O.E., ‘Don’t make us the next Tribeca,’ ” she said.
With all this in mind, the fact remains that, by the time D.O.E.’s budget is finalized next summer, Bill de Blasio will already have taken office as the city’s next mayor. At that point, he — and whoever he may choose to replace current Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott — will have the final say on the plan that is sent to the City Council for approval.
However, de Blasio is already taking some heat for not being open enough about who he’s considering to appoint chancellor.