Volume 20 Issue 20 | Sept. 28 - Oct. 04, 2007

Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel

These dogs may have less space in the W. Thames dog run next summer when plans are to begin construction on a nearby school.

Push to begin construction on B.P.C. school

By Josh Rogers

Battery Park City officials are planning to clear one of the neighborhood’s last undeveloped sites to make way for a K-8 school that could open by 2010.

Downtown community leaders have been expecting an official announcement for a new school at the southern end of the neighborhood for months. They are still waiting for that, but last week residents heard for the first time of plans to begin construction next summer and finish in 2010.

“I have every reason to believe that’s going to happen,” James Gill, chairperson of the Battery Park City Authority, said of the construction start. “I see no sticking points.”

He said his state authority and the city’s School Construction Authority both want the school badly and the deal is close to being finalized. “They want to get going on it as soon as they can,” Gill told Downtown Express Wednesday. “We need a school.”

Gill, also the chairperson of the B.P.C. Parks Conservancy, said it will be up to the city to finish by 2010, but the conservancy should be able to clear its equipment from the school site at Battery Pl. between First and Second Pl. before next summer. Conservancy staff leaders were scoping out the area on Wednesday in preparation for a possible move.

Gill said the school will adhere to the neighborhood’s environmental guidelines. “It will be the city’s first green school,” he added. “You know we like firsts.”

Julie Menin, Community Board 1’s chairperson, and Jeff Galloway, a C.B. 1 member, said that Jim Cavanaugh, the Battery Park City Authority’s president and C.E.O., also told them in separate conversations of the plans to clear the site.

“The school is a reality,” Menin told happy C.B. 1 members last week.

Leticia Remauro, an authority spokesperson, confirmed a 2010 school opening is possible if “everything went absolutely perfectly.” She cautioned that the deal for the lot known as Site 2B is not yet finalized and said if the negotiations drag out until December, it would likely set the project back a year.

Margie Feinberg, a spokesperson for the city’s Dept. of Education and the S.C.A., said the city does not comment on ongoing negotiations and she could make no comment on Site 2B “at this point.”

The site was once slated to house a women’s history museum, but when that project stalled, Barry Skolnick, a B.P.C. resident and community board member, began pushing for the school. It seemed an uphill political battle last year since then-Gov. George Pataki’s wife was on the museum board, and Downtown, with its rapidly growing population, had already won approval for a new K-8 on the East Side and a school annex for overcrowded P.S. 234.

Skolnick was cautiously optimistic about the recent news. “I’ll be thrilled when it happens,” Skolnick said. “I’m waiting to see spades in the ground and construction happening…. Do I think it’s going to happen? Absolutely.”

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has been pressing Gov. Eliot Spitzer for the Site 2B school and told Downtown Express last week that he is “more than 75 percent confident” there will be an announcement soon. Officials with Spitzer’s Empire State Development Corp. said several months ago that a school on the site is a high priority.

School Construction Authority officials told C.B. 1 in January that they wanted to build three schools on any available sites in sprawling District 2, which includes almost all of Lower Manhattan, the Village, Chelsea, Clinton and part of the Upper East Side. One school site is likely to be in Clinton’s Hudson Yards, but the other two would most likely be on the first two available sites, officials said then.

Galloway, who spoke to Cavanaugh about the school, said the B.P.C.A. would not be making plans to relocate equipment unless the school deal was close. “The reality is that they are vacating a site that they desperately need for other purposes,” he said.

To him, the school development is a “good news, bad news” situation because it will likely lead to reducing the size of the dog run near W. Thames St.

Engineers for the Visionaire residential building under construction across from the school site recently painted a yellow line in the middle of the run. Remauro said the authority asked Albanese Organization, the Visionaire’s developer, to do that to begin planning where to move equipment.

The Visionaire’s sales office is on Site 2B as is Parks Conservancy equipment. Albanese also has construction equipment nearby that may have to be relocated. Remauro said the line was not drawn with the idea of cutting the dog run in half, but to make it easier to mark off and measure any changes.

An Albanese spokesperson declined to comment.

At a C.B. 1 meeting Tuesday, Galloway said the “huge empty promenade” on West St. would be a much better place to put equipment than the dog run. The relatively new walkway at the south end of West St. was often praised by Pataki, but it is commonly mocked by C.B. 1 members who notice few pedestrians using it.

The board’s Battery Park City Committee will be discussing the Site 2B-dog run plans with the B.P.C.A. at the committee’s public meeting Oct. 2 at One World Financial Center at 6 p.m.

Board members said Tuesday that with Downtown’s crowded elementary school population aging, some consideration should be given to building a 6-12 or a K-12 in Battery Park City rather than a K-8. The east side K-8 on Beekman St. is currently scheduled to open in 2009, but a source told Downtown Express last week that developer Bruce Ratner has hit a financing snag and the project could get delayed a year.

With reporting by Skye H. McFarlane

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