Volume 20, Number 27 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | November 16 - 22, 2007

Spitzer, mayor back new school

By Julie Shapiro

Downtown will get 950 new school seats in Battery Park City, Gov. Elliot Spitzer and Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Tuesday.

The 55 Battery Place building will include 100 special education students in the city’s first green public school, which will also have 850 general education seats from pre-K to eighth grade.

“Nothing anchors a neighborhood stronger than a school,” Spitzer said. “A school down here is desperately needed.”

Officials hope construction will begin at Battery Pl. between First and Second Pls. in June and the school will open in September 2010.

“This new school is one more place to make a dent into the backlog of overcrowding,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told Downtown Express in an interview.

District 2, a sprawling district that includes Lower Manhattan and part of the Upper East Side, needs 3,000 new seats, Bloomberg said. This school will provide nearly one-third of those seats.

Spitzer referred to the school as both a practical and symbolic victory. Students will “learn the inspiring story of Lower Manhattan’s dramatic resurgence,” he said.

Silver agreed at the ceremony, saying, “The site of the worst tragedy on American soil will become the site of a new school [that uses the latest] environmental technology.”

Solar panels, increased insulation, occupancy sensors and the use of natural light will reduce energy costs by 25 percent. High-efficiency plumbing will cut the school’s water use nearly in half. Even the construction will be green: Builders will recycle 80 percent of construction waste.

The nine-story building will have 40 classrooms, wireless Internet, a 5,400-square-foot gym, a library and music and art rooms. Dattner Architects will design the 125,000-square-foot school, and a rendering shows a modern, boxy white building with large windows.

Downtown parents and Community Board 1 have raised the issue of having a zoned middle school seat in Lower Manhattan many times over the years in connection with the opening of I.S. 89 in 1998 and the start of construction of a K-8 school on Beekman St. this year, only to be rebuffed by the city.

The new B.P.C. school’s zoning won’t be decided for several years, Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm told Downtown Express Tuesday. However, “The need is great in Lower Manhattan,” she said. “I assume it’ll be for Lower Manhattan children.”

The idea for the school came from Community Board 1, in a process that chairperson Julie Menin said is “an amazing example of true democracy in action.”

Board member Barry Skolnick suggested the Site 2B spot when looking for potential Battery Park City school locations back in 2005. A women’s museum, championed by former Gov. George Pataki’s wife, was planned for the site, but Skolnick found out that the museum was having trouble raising money. His idea for a school did not catch on immediately, because of the obstacle of displacing the museum.

“It’s hard to take on the governor and the governor’s wife,” Skolnick said. “[People] thought it was a Don-Quixote-like situation.”

He initially suggested splitting the site with the museum, but when the museum refused and still failed to raise money, Menin and the community board began strongly advocating for the school last year. Silver, City Councilmember Alan Gerson and other Downtown politicians joined the cause, and the idea slowly gained credence.

Bloomberg described the negotiations that created the school, saying, “Nothing is done in this city without everyone working together, and this is as good an example as you need.” Community leaders have been saying for months that the school announcement would be made soon.

Skolnick is happy that the school is finally official. “It’s important to have a school down here with a middle school component based in neighborhood,” he said. “The sooner the construction begins the better.”

Sharon Greenberger, president of the School Construction Authority, promised to build the school on time and on budget. “All the stars aligned,” for this project, she said, from the perfect location to the need for seats.

Margie Feinberg, a Department of Education spokesperson, said the agency does not know yet how much the school will cost, but will announce a number after design work is complete.

The Battery Park City Authority, controlled by the governor, donated the land for the school, the last unallocated site in Battery Park City. The authority is contributing $3 million to the School Construction Authority for green building features.

The Battery Park City Parks Conservancy and the Albanese Organization have used Site 2B as storage, but have already begun clearing it out, and must entirely vacate the site by May. The conservancy is talking with the Hudson River Park Trust about storing some equipment on Pier 40 until a new space is ready in the residential building under construction across the street at Site 3.

The authority is still figuring out where everything will go, but “the [West Thames St.] dog run will not be touched,” said Leticia Remauro, a B.P.C.A. spokesperson. Several weeks ago, the authority gave Albanese the go-ahead to divide the dog run in half visually with a painted line as school talks heated up and the authority considered ways to make room for the school.

Logistical concerns aside, the mood Tuesday was upbeat, and Menin said it was her proudest day leading C.B. 1.

“It’s a fantastic week for Downtown,” she said, referring to Spitzer and Bloomberg’s other joint appearance Nov. 8 to announce $37 million in community enhancement grants. “The school is going to remake the educational landscape for years to come.”

Building a school is “an act of ultimate optimism and faith in the community,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler said. “The neighborhood needs faith, it needs optimism and it needs a school.”

With reporting by Josh Rogers

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