Volume 16 • Issue 23 | November 4 - 10, 2003

Downtown school likely under plan

Report calls for 3 schools in District 2, Pataki says put one Downtown

By Elizabeth O’Brien

Local Community School District 2 is slated to receive three new pre-K-8 schools under the city’s five-year education budget released on Monday. While school officials said that the placement of the schools within the district, which stretches from Downtown to the Upper East Side, had not yet been decided, last week Gov. George Pataki said there should be an additional school in Lower Manhattan to serve kindergarten through eighth grades.

The Downtown community had hoped for at least one new elementary and middle school to ease the overcrowding that many anticipate will only worsen over the next two years as developers create more than 8,000 new apartments below Canal St. Local leaders said on Monday that they were glad the city recognized the community’s need and voiced optimism that Lower Manhattan is an intended spot for one of the three proposed District 2 schools.

“Considering the overcrowding of our schools, considering the increase in families moving in today and in the future, and considering the governor has identified Lower Manhattan as having a need for a school, we’re sure one has got to be for us,” said Paul Hovitz, chairperson of the youth and education committee of Community Board 1.

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein said on Monday that the Department of Education’s “bold and exciting” plan was based on a thorough assessment of the city’s many communities. The department conducted a survey of all city public school buildings and their available seats, and also commissioned a 10-year demographic study to identify population trends, Klein said.

The $13.1 billion plan provides funds for constructing new schools, repairing existing facilities, and restructuring the city’s lowest performing schools. It calls for the creation of 76 new school buildings in the five boroughs. District 2 has the most proposed schools of any Manhattan district. Queens and Staten Island schools have the most severe overcrowding problems and some districts are slated to get as many as eight schools.

“The fact that there are three in District 2 is significant,” said Bill Goldstein, president of the School Construction Authority, although he declined to confirm that Lower Manhattan would be the location of one of the schools.

School officials said they did not yet have sites for most of the schools proposed under the five-year capital plan, including the three District 2 schools. Of the three, one is proposed for a brand new building and the other two for leased space, like the Millennium High School that opened at 75 Broad St. this fall.

The new school would cost approximately $44.8 million, according to the plan, and construction is projected to start in June, 2006. The leased spaces were estimated to cost between $33 million and $34 million, according to the plan. Construction is projected to begin in July, 2006, for one and July, 2007, for the other.

In his speech last Thursday on Lower Manhattan rebuilding, Gov. Pataki did not say when the area’s new school could be expected.

“Even with the opening of Millennium High School in September, Lower Manhattan still needs new schools,” Pataki said. “Today, I am calling for the [Lower Manhattan Development Corporation] to work with the mayor, chancellor Klein and the community to create a new school, serving kindergarten through eighth grades.”

Madelyn Wils, chairperson of C.B. 1, said, “The governor has been very supportive of our wishes – he gets it.” She pledged to “work very aggressively to find a site. We will not wait for a site to come to us.”

The city’s 32 local community school boards will receive the five-year capital plan and will have until Jan. 1, 2004 to offer comments and recommendations. The mayor will then submit the proposal to the City Council, which will incorporate it into its fiscal plan next June. New York City will supply $6.5 billion of the budget, and the state is expected to contribute the remaining $6.5 billion as a result of a lawsuit filed on behalf of New York City parents charging unfair allocation of state education funds.

In the past, critics have charged that the five-year capital plan represented a wish list that went largely unfulfilled as budget overruns and other problems limited the city’s ability to implement the plan. But officials insisted that this time would be different: Since the last plan, the School Construction Authority has been absorbed into the Department of Education, and the authority is responsible for both the planning and the execution of all capital projects.

Mike Bloomberg said the previous system was a “recipe for costly delays and confusion,” and this plan represented a “dramatic change.”

Sandy Bridges, principal of P.S. 234 in Tribeca, hailed the news that a new school may be coming to the area. With its current roster of 699 students, the popular school is more than 70 students over capacity. Bridges has said she opposes building an addition on the school, since that will permanently increase the student body and lessen her ability to support staff and students alike.

“We’re going to have to come up with a short-term solution” for overcrowding, Bridges said, “But in the long term at least we know they have a plan.”



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