Volume 18 • Issue 41 | February 24 - March 2, 2006

Downtown Express photo by Talisman Brolin

City Councilmember Alan Gerson; Stefan Pryor, president of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which provided funds for moderate-income housing at Tribeca’s Site 5B and $20 million for the Beekman Schol; Mayor Bloomberg; developer Edward Minskoff; Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver; Shaun Donovan, commissioner of the city department of Housing Preservation and Development; and Dep. Mayor Dan Doctoroff came together for a groundbreaking ceremony at Site 5B near Warren and Greenwich Sts. Thursday. The residential project was part of the deal to build two Downtown schools that have been taken out of the city budget.

What school annex? Mayor ignores Tribeca amenity at ceremony

By Ronda Kaysen

It was as if the two schools never existed at all. Mayor Bloomberg celebrated the groundbreaking of a Tribeca residential development last week, rattling off a list of amenities bestowed upon the neighborhood – a Whole Foods Market, a Barnes and Noble, a recreation center. Missing from the list were the most significant amenities of the entire deal: two schools he once promised the community in exchange for the development.

Just three days earlier, Michael Bloomberg announced that 21 new schools slated for construction would be delayed indefinitely because the state has not delivered the Dept. of Education a court-ordered annual payment of $5.6 billion in operational funds and a one-time payment of $9 billion in capital funds.

Among the stalled schools is a P.S. 234 annex and a new K-8 on Beekman St., two schools that were part of a deal brokered in 2004 between private developers, the community and Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff. The community won the schools in exchange for supporting the ceding of public land to private developers for two high-rise developments on Sites 5B and 5C bounded by Greenwich, West, Warren, Murray and Chambers Sts. The agreement said nothing about the schools being dependant upon state money.

The land sales passed the City Council easily with the support of Councilmember Alan Gerson and Community Board 1. Site 5C was slated to get the rec center, which the mayor mentioned Thursday, and the school annex, which he did not.

Last Thursday, two scores of parents gathered outside the Site 5B groundbreaking, a mound of fresh dirt and several shovels lying in wait. Pushing strollers and clutching handmade signs in front of St. John’s University, they shouted “Mayor, mayor keep your vow, we demand our schools right now!”

Beth Wachter, a Tribeca resident, stood with her two children, both P.S. 234 students, on Murray St. “[Bloomberg] made a promise to us and now he’s breaking that promise and it breaks our trust with him,” she said, gripping the edge of a large white sign that read “Built on Lies.”

Parents spoke of concessions they made in the height of the buildings in exchange for the schools and of grave concern for P.S. 234, which is already at 120 percent capacity. “How much can that school hold? Enough is enough,” said Erica Weldon, vice president of the P.S. 234 P.T.A.

But inside the St. John’s auditorium, the elephant in the room was the missing schools. Doctoroff, who signed the 2004 agreement with Gerson, made no mention of the schools. When asked about them after the event, he smiled and told Downtown Express, “I think the mayor’s comments have spoken for themselves.”

Gerson, who continues to be a vocal supporter of the schools, did not speak at all at the event.

The only politician to mention the brouhaha outside was Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who took the podium and said, “We share a joint obligation to the children of this city. We must and we will build all of the school facilities this city needs and deserves – including the P.S. 234 annex and Beekman.”

Ben McGrath, the chief operating officer for Edward Minskoff Equities, the Site 5B developer, was optimistic this would all blow over. “We would be surprised if these schools didn’t end up happening once these politicians finish with all this,” he told Downtown Express.

Former Community Board 1 chairperson Madelyn Wils, who helped broker the 2004 agreement, agreed the schools would materialize. “I believe it will ultimately happen, when push comes to shove and there will be a lot of pushing and shoving,” she told Downtown Express.

Already two schools have made it off the fated list. Originally, the mayor planned to delay 23 schools – not 21. But shortly before the mayor announced the school delay, D.O.E. found a way to fund two Brooklyn schools. “They’re really essential to the neighborhoods they’re in,” D.O.E. spokesperson Stephen Morello said about the Brooklyn schools. Combined, the schools in Flatbush and Marine Park will cost about $11.7 million to build, making them easier to take off the list, Morello added. Beekman School alone, will cost about $65 million to build, but the P.S. 234 annex estimate is $6.5 million.

No other schools, however, will find their way off the list anytime soon. “The two Downtown schools have far less of the preliminary work done on them and can’t go forward without the money” from the state, said Morello.

The morning after the groundbreaking, P.S. 234 parents gathered outside the school and marched to City Hall for a press conference with Silver and Gerson.

Their pleas apparently went unheard. On Sunday, the mayor reiterated his position on the schools during his weekly radio address. “We cannot afford to continue covering for the State,” Bloomberg said. “What will it take for our leaders in Albany to live up to their responsibility?”


Ronda@DowntownExpress.com


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