Community leaders cool to P.S. 234 expansion idea

By Elizabeth O’Brien

Drawing of a proposed two-story expansion of P.S. 234 which includes six new classrooms. The dog run behind the school would move to Site 5C, a proposed new residential site.

With the population of Lower Manhattan expected to balloon over the next several years, the community has begun debating the merits of building an addition to P.S 234 to accommodate the anticipated influx of new students.

George Olsen, outgoing president of the P.T.A. at P.S. 234, has led an initiative to add up to six new classrooms to the Tribeca school. He recently asked an architectural firm to sketch rough plans for the expansion. One scheme would involve two stories of three classrooms each, and the other would involve three stories of two classrooms each.

While most community members agree that overcrowding poses a serious threat to P.S. 234, not everyone is certain that an addition represents the best way to address it.

“I think the answer to the problem is another school,” said Paul Hovitz, chairperson of the youth and education committee for Community Board 1.

Hovitz worried that building an addition would appear to justify the increased enrollment at the school. He also wondered if substantial growth would dilute the strength of the top-ranked elementary school.

As early as this fall, P.S. 234 will likely have more than 700 students, over 100 students above its capacity. Even more students are expected to enroll over the next few years, as at least 8,173 new residential units are built south of Canal St. Some of the units will be built right on P.S. 234’s doorstep: about 500 apartments are slated for construction on the Site 5C development just west of the school.

Under the expansion idea, the dog run behind the school would be moved to part of Site 5C and the school yard would shift to the south to make room for the expansion.

Madelyn Wils, chairperson of C.B. 1, said that P.S. 234 has found ways to accommodate its expected enrollment this fall, but she stressed that long-term solutions would still be needed to alleviate the overcrowding. Wils said she had seen the architectural sketches Olsen provided for the 234 addition but declined to comment at this time.

P.S. 234 is converting office space to classrooms in order to accommodate the expected overcrowding this September.

Olsen, a member of C.B. 1 and a real estate attorney, said that he supports the idea of building a new school. But he argued that the community should also push the developers of the neighboring lots to help fund and build an addition to P.S. 234. In addition to 5C, the 5B lot across the street from P.S. 234 is slated for a 38-story commercial development.

“If you look at [5B and 5C] together you can look at what the community should get.” Olsen noted that both P.S. 234 and P.S./I.S. 89 in Battery Park City were built by developers as concessions to the community. He did not have a cost estimate for the expansion.

Scott Resnick, the developer of 5C, has already included plans for an 18,000 sq. ft. community center in the site plans. Bob Townley, executive director of Manhattan Youth, a non-profit organization that runs after school programs at P.S. 234 and other schools, said that the center would become “the anchor community amenity,” and he declined to comment on the possible school expansion.

Olsen said that the large scope of the planned projects near P.S. 234, and the resulting pressures on the local infrastructure, mean that the developers should help fund both the community center and the P.S. 234 addition.

Scott Resnick declined on Monday to address the possibility of his funding the P.S. 234 expansion, but said, “We’re very anxious to work with the community in a productive fashion.”

Olsen acknowledged that Anna Switzer, the former principal of P.S. 234, and Sandy Bridges, the incoming principal, would prefer working with the Department of Education to limit the school’s enrollment instead of building an extension. Neither Switzer nor Bridges was available for comment.

Olsen stressed that while a new school was a good long-term goal, the community should not lose the opportunity to pressure developers for more concessions.


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