Downtown parents group organizing to build more schools

Wendy Chapman, left, one of the leaders of Build Schools Now, listened with other Lower Manhattan parents Tuesday night at the group's meeting. . Downtown Express photo by Zach Williams.

Lower Manhattan parents at the Build Schools Now meeting April 1 . Downtown Express photo by Zach Williams.

By ZACH WILLIAMS |  ORIGINALLY POSTED APRIL 2, 2014  |  Success and setbacks alike inspire a growing group of Lower Manhattan citizens aspiring to alleviate a shortage of space in neighborhood schools with grassroots pressure on policymakers.

Buoyed by last year’s success of  keeping P.S. 150 located in Tribeca, a group of Downtown parents formed Build Schools Now toward the end of the year. It  is now continuing efforts to bring parents together while advocating for more schools in Lower Manhattan. The recent funding of a planned 456-seat school, which still lacks a building site, is only a partial success, group leaders said at a meeting Tuesday night, It falls far short of the 1,000 new seats originally recommended by the city’s Dept. of Education last year.

As the planning process for the now-funded expansion and universal pre-K get underway, the group continues to organize in hopes of realizing the additional seats.

Two dozen parents attending the April 1 meeting of the group at the Manhattan Youth Community Center, including parents who have children attending P.S. 150, 89, 234, 276 and 397. Wendy Chapman, a leader of Build Schools, said they plan an active spring in an effort to inspire city and state officials to approach school building with the same zeal as economic redevelopment in Lower Manhattan.

“We don’t want to be political. We want to be supportive,” Chapman who is also P.T.A. president at P.S. 150, said of targeting policy-makers.

A petition circulated by the group has gathered at least 251 signatures. The group intends to further publicize their cause by engaging more parents at the Downtown Little League’s Opening Day on April 5, as well as outside schools and at larger events including the Taste of Tribeca festival in May. The activists are also currently cooperating with elected officials such as Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Councilmember Margaret Chin, State Senator Daniel Squadron to join them for a demonstration at City Hall in the late spring, according to group member Lisa Midyette.

Parents at the meeting repeatedly voiced frustration at waiting lists for kindergarten students in Lower Manhattan, where a dramatic increase in population has taken place.

Plans by city officials for accommodating the booming school-age population continue to look above Canal St. such as a proposed location of a new school on the northern side of the street’s intersection with Sixth Ave.

“The way we have to fight for space has really become the issue,” said Sonni Mun, a resident of the Financial District who attended the meeting. “It’s totally unfair.”

A March 2013 report by Community Board 1 stated that from 2000 to 2010, the Financial District saw a 242 percent increase in children aged 0-4, and a 158 percent increase in those aged 5-9. During the same period, children ages 0-4 and 5-9 increased by 149 and 75 percent respectively in Battery Park City, Downtown Express reported last year.

“They’ve encouraged development, but haven’t acknowledged the fact that we need schools,” said Paul Hovitz, co-chairperson of C.B. 1’s Youth and Education Committee, who attended the meeting.

While the newly-funded school seats are welcome, “continuous pressure” is necessary to see that a new school is “sited, funded, built and occupied,” according to Buxton Midyette, who mediated the meeting.  An “acute crisis” is developing with a “best-case scenario” shortage of 228 kindergarten seats in Lower Manhattan by 2018, he added.

Such statistics could endanger the revitalization of the Downtown area which followed the Sept. 11 attacks, according to Midyette.

“Overcrowding has such a destructive impact on Downtown and really puts at risk all the development and recovery that has taken place,” he said in an email.

The group enjoyed some success at the meeting in expanding its membership.

“This sort of thing takes time, so we wanted to get involved,” said Chris Marcia, a Battery Park City resident with a two-year old daughter who attended the meeting with his wife Christina.


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