Student movement: Parents protest scheme to displace PS 150

The landlords of PS 150 in Tribeca won’t renew the award-winning school’s lease, leaving the city and parents arguing about where the 180 students can go in a neighborhood already lacking classroom space.
Photo by Sydney Pereira

BY SYDNEY PEREIRA

The Department of Education is considering moving Tribeca’s PS 150 into a new school building under construction in Fidi that was originally supposed to provide the overcrowded neighborhood with hundreds of dearly needed school seats, according to local parents. 

PS 150’s lease at 334 Greenwich St. has expired, and building owners Vornado Realty Trust and Stellar Management aren’t planning to renew it, according to the DOE, which is mulling eventually moving the school into the classroom space being built at Trinity Place.

But Downtown’s first new school construction in years has already bee delayed for two years, and won’t be ready for students until at least 2022. So as short-term fix, the city is floating the idea of co-locating the displaced PS 150 in the Peck Slip School building, which parents complain is already pressed for space — especially for recess and extracurricular activities,

Youth and education advocates on Community Board 1 are outraged that the DOE would be giving parents such a last-minute notice for an issue that it surely knew was coming for some time. The ending a lease, said one, is “never a surprise.”

“The DOE and the [School Construction Authority] have known about this lease ending for quite some time,” said Tricia Joyce, chairwoman of the CB1 Youth and Education Committee. “To tell families in October or September that the school is closing next year is completely unacceptable.”

PS 150 is not a large school — the pre-K-through-elementary institution is known for its “one class per grade” model, so it has only 180 students, but the formula seems to work — in 2014, it was just one of six city schools to win the National Blue Ribbon Award.

But attempts to move the school date back to the year before that accolade, when the DOE proposed moving the school in 2013 to 17th Street and Sixth Avenue. 

“I feel as though we are reeling back the clock to 2013 explaining once again why it’s important not to do that to this school,” Joyce said. 

CB 1 is focusing on pressuring DOE to work with Vornado to extend the PS 150 lease at least until Trinity Place School is open. That way, at least PS 150 wouldn’t have to relocate twice within a five-year period — changes that could add stress to children’s lives, not to mention parents, teachers and administrators. 

“This does not work well for anybody,” said Hovitz, adding that the committee hopes they can at least achieve a delay on when the school moves. 

Watching the DOE seemingly sleepwalk into yet another avoidable predicament that leaves only bad options highlights for Joyce the larger issue plaguing Downtown’s school-seat shortfall: a woeful lack of planning by the DOE and SCA that is at the root of the city’s chronic failure to provide adequate classroom space for one of the fastest growing residential neighborhoods in the city.

“We are once again in this situation where we are chasing infrastructure after the fact — basic infrastructure,” Joyce said. “These are not amenities that we are asking for. These are school seats.”

Board members also say the plan to co-locate PS 150 with the Peck Slip School will only exacerbate existing space issues at that school.

“My concern is that Peck Slip doesn’t have the common space to accommodate another 180 kids,” said Paul Hovitz, the youth and education committee co-chair on CB1. 

Currently, the school with around 493 school seats, uses a cobblestone “Play Street” as an ad-hoc recess area and relies a an much derided combination gymnasium and auditorium — dubbed a “gymnatorium” — to share for sports and arts activities.

“There’s a really big different between capacity of people and room to recreate,” said Joyce, noting that it is not necessarily a classroom space issue at Peck Slip. 

The department, however, insists the both schools will have enough space at Peck Slip. 

“The DOE is working collaboratively with the entire PS 150 and Peck Slip communities to find a new site for the school after we were informed by the owner of the PS 150 building that we could not renew our lease,” said department spokesperson Doug Cohen. “We will continue to meet with [Community Education Council] 2, school leadership teams, parents, and community members throughout this process to ensure we are addressing the needs of students and families.” 

If the proposal moves ahead, the department will publish an Educational Impact Statement and hold public hearings before a vote by the Panel for Educational Policy, according to Cohen. 

Downtown pols are requesting a meeting with Laurence Gluck of Stellar Management, reps from Vornado Realty Trust, the real estate firm that owns over half the building, and school leadership. 

“[W]e hope to continue a conversation that will allow PS 150 to stay in a neighborhood in which it has developed strong roots,” wrote Councilwoman Margaret Chin, Borough President Gale Brewer, and other Downtown pols in a letter. 

Vornado and Stellar did not respond to a request for comment.

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