Volume 19 Issue 46 | March 30 - April 5, 2007

Push for K – 8 in B.P.C. may push out annex

By Skye H. McFarlane

In the battle for more school space in Battery Park City, the momentum seems to be shifting south. In recent weeks, community leaders have backed away from the idea of a P.S. 89 annex in order to push for a new school at Site 2B at the southern tip of the neighborhood.

Annex skeptics say that the Department of Education will not fund two school construction projects in the neighborhood and that the only real solution for school overcrowding is a new school. However, many P.S. 89 parents want to keep the annex on the table, especially since the 2B school is not yet a done deal. Annex proponents say the extra space, which they propose to carve out of the to-be-built Battery Park City Community Center, would provide a more immediate solution to P.S./I.S. 89’s problems.

Community Board 1 chairperson Julie Menin said B.P.C. won’t be able to get the annex and a school. She said community leaders have drawn closer to securing a school at the 2B site, on Battery Pl. between First and Second Places. In January, Menin said the D.O.E. had not ruled out an annex in addition to a new school, and added the board would be “foolish” not to pursue both.

On Wednesday, however, Menin said that if the community is granted the 2B site, the D.O.E. would not fund an annex.

“The D.O.E. was very clear that they view a new K-8 Downtown as a much better solution than an annex,” Menin said. Nevertheless, she supports having a discussion about the annex to “keep everyone in the loop” and hear their ideas about how the community center can best serve the neighborhood.

“I don’t want us to preclude any possible solutions for the overcrowding, but I also want us to be realistic. I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize 2B,” Menin said.

Tom Goodkind, a P.S. 89 parent and C.B. 1 member, said the board should pursue the annex. “Let people talk about it and let the architects and Battery Park City Authority understand that this is still an open topic and there is still a chance of having the annex as a solution,” he said.

Goodkind has spent the past two months calling and emailing his C.B. 1 colleagues, trying to pester the board and the authority into scheduling a meeting to follow up on the annex idea. That meeting, a rare convening of the Community Center Task Force, is now set to take place April 10. Still, the annex idea appears to have lost steam among board members since January.

On Jan. 10, the board held a town hall meeting at P.S. 89 to gauge parent support for the annex concept, which would involve redesigning the 50,000 square foot community center on North End Ave. between Warren and Murray Sts. to carve out 10,000 square feet of classroom space with a separate entrance. The parent support was overwhelming, as was the support of the full board.

As time went by, however, the Task Force meeting was delayed repeatedly. Once the meeting was scheduled, the B.P.C.A. and Task Force chairperson Anthony Notaro resisted putting the annex on the agenda, saying that the discussion would not be productive without representatives from the School Construction Authority — who had repeatedly declined invitations to attend the meeting.

The S.C.A., the building arm of the Department of Education, would be in charge of constructing the inside of the proposed annex. Milstein Properties, which is building two residential towers on the site, would provide the main structure. Although the Battery Park City Authority is planning to pay to build out the space as a community center, authority spokesperson Leticia Remauro has told board members that the authority would not pay to construct the space as a school. Authority officials did not return calls for comment.

Goodkind said that if the annex is what is best for the community, then the authority should be willing to pay for it.

Notaro said he has concerns that other populations, such as teens and seniors, might be shortchanged by giving 20 percent of the community center space exclusively to the schoolchildren. He said he also worries that since it would take an undetermined amount of time to redesign and then build the annex space, the annex would not provide a true short-term solution to overcrowding.

“The real solution is a new school in the area and the S.C.A. has been very willing to work with us on that,” Notaro said.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who met recently with Schools Chancellor Joel Klein to discuss more school space Downtown, has also thrown his weight behind the 2B site — and seemingly only the 2B site. While the speaker said in a statement that he plans to work with a new task force, put together by Borough President Scott Stringer, to come up with short-term solutions for the overcrowding at P.S./I.S. 89, he stressed the importance of 2B.

“It is imperative that we build a new school at Site 2B to address the growing demand for classroom space in our Lower Manhattan community,” Silver said Wednesday.

Many parents, however, feel that the positive talks about 2B — and even the rebuffs from the D.O.E. — should not deter the community from pursuing the annex. Some point out that Lower Manhattan was able to secure a P.S. 234 annex in the Manhattan Youth community center, set to open this fall, simultaneously with a new K-8 school on Beekman St.

“The community board did not push for [the annex],” said Liz Pappas, the fundraising chairperson for the P.S. 89 Parent Teacher Association. “Julie Menin had said she would support it and then she turned around and did not. Personally, I’m tired. I don’t feel we were represented through the community board.”

Pappas agrees that the only real solution for the current overcrowding will be a new school, but in the meantime, she wants to look into any and all options — including an annex in the community center and the possibility of trailers outside the school on Warren St.

P.T.A. Co-President Dennis Gault, who was just appointed to be a C.B. 1 board member, also wants to keep the annex idea on the table.

“Why are we closing doors at this early stage? This is something we should be discussing along with trailers and site 2B,” said Gault, who first proposed the community center annex idea last summer. “We don’t have a definite on 2B, so why shut down any avenues?”

Even if the community secures a new school at 2B, Gault said that he would continue to press for P.S./I.S. 89 students to have access to the community center facilities, such as the pool, arts classrooms and the adjacent ballfields, during the day. He said that P.S. 19 in the East Village, where he works as an art teacher, brings its students to music lessons off-site at a nearby music school.

“Children are part of the public. They should be able to use this public space throughout the day,” Gault said. “There should be a reciprocal relationship between the school and community center.”

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