Volume 18 • Issue 6 | July 1-7, 2005

P.S. 234 braces for construction noise in the fall

Downtown Express file photo by Lorenzo Ciniglio
Sandy Bridges, P.S. 234 principal

By Ronda Kaysen

The students of P.S. 234 in Tribeca have quite a noisy school year to look forward to when they return from summer break. Construction workers building a nearby residential development will be busy pile driving – a deafening excavation process – directly outside the school’s windows for several months of the school year.

“I am hugely concerned. Can you imagine what it would be like – 40 feet from your building – to hear the constant sound of pile driving?” said P.S. 234 principal Sandy Bridges in a telephone interview. “This is a school year and it’s time that cannot be regained and it will be numbing to listen to that for the entire school day.”

Unless the developer changes course, pile driving is exactly what the 700 students of P.S. 234 will listen to for three months, beginning in November. Unlike nearby development Site 5C, which avoided pile driving and sits beside a windowless wall of the school, 65 of the school’s windows look out onto Site 5B, which is directly across the street from the Warren St. school. The development site is bounded by Warren, Murray, Greenwich and West Sts.

“There is nothing you can do. There is no window glazing, there are no walls you can build, there are no white noise machines that can block out this kind of noise,” said Bridges.

The news that developer Edward Minskoff might pile drive should come as no surprise to the community. In April — a month before Community Board 1 signed off on the developer’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure application — the developer indicated in this paper that pile driving might very well happen.

And again, on May 17, immediately after C.B. 1 gave Minskoff’s project a crucial nod of approval, Carlos Olivieri, S.V.P. for construction and development for Edward Minskoff Equities, told Downtown Express, “We’re hoping to get our drills in the ground in August so pile driving will be done long before standardized testing begins.”

Before C.B. 1’s Tribeca Committee approved the project, Olivieri told members that soil conditions were significantly worse at Site 5B than at Site 5C and that pile driving was likely.

Minskoff declined to comment for this story.

In a rare occurrence, the board — which is typically advisory in nature — had the authority in May to stall the development, but it chose not to.

The 1.1 million sq. ft. development is part of an agreement brokered last September between the Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff and City Councilmember Alan Gerson. As part of the agreement, if the developer increased the height of one of the buildings, which he ultimately did, the community board would have the authority to reject the increase, if necessary. In May, the board approved the ULURP, in part because in exchange for the added height, the developer would give an additional $1 million to a nearby community center, bringing Minskoff’s total contribution to the center to $2 million, as required in the agreement. Minskoff also agreed to pay $7.5 million into a fund for Washington Market Park.

At the May meeting, P.S. 234 parent coordinator Kathy Sussell voiced her support for the development, which will also bring an annex to the school as part of the Site 5C development. “We really need this community center,” she told the board at the time. “We need a space for the children in the neighborhood.”

But with the prospect of a school year numbed by months of deafening noise, $2 million no longer sounds like such a welcome trade off. “In the grand scheme of a huge project like this, I don’t think $2 million is a lot of money, I really don’t,” said Bridges.

Now, with pile driving a looming reality, parents are rallying to stave off the coming racket. The P.T.A. is looking to hire an engineering consultant to see if there might be quieter alternatives. Bridges hopes the school will be able to get its hands on the developer’s logs that tell the soil’s condition to see if an alternative is possible. “They could tell us anything, quite frankly,” she said of Minskoff. “It is not mandatory to pile drive, there are other alternatives, no matter what the soil is like.” Other alternatives, however, might prove more costly to the developer.

The community board might very well have missed a key moment in their negotiations, and at this point the school is looking toward elected officials to hash out construction details before the ULURP is approved by City Council. “What’s past is past and at this point we have to work with the entities and I think that’s a positive way to go,” said C.B. 1 Youth and Education Committee chairperson Paul Hovitz of the board’s vote.

Gerson, who could block the City Council ULURP vote, indicated that he would do just that if Minskoff does not cooperate. Although the City Councilmember has been in ongoing negotiations with the developer, they do not appear to be coming along as favorably as negotiations with developer Scott Resnick on the Site 5C project did. “So far, it’s nowhere near the success we had with Resnick,” said David Feiner, an aide to Gerson, at a June 23 C.B. 1 meeting. “It does not appear that this developer is as friendly to the school.”

Ronda@DowntownExpress.com

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