Volume 22, Number 21 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | October 2 - 8, 2009
Downtown Express photo by Tequila Minsky
Elementary school students rallied for a middle school at 75 Morton St. last week.
Pols & parents renew call for Morton middle school
By Albert Amateau
Kids on stilts and balloons galore made it look like a circus last Thursday in front of 75 Morton St. But the crowd of about 200 Greenwich Village, Chelsea and Tribeca neighbors and elected officials were seriously renewing demands for middle-school space in the state-owned building.
The rally, following a similar one last year, demanded that the city and state make space available in the Morton St. property for a middle school to relieve the overcrowding in the school building on Hudson and Grove Sts. that Greenwich Village Middle School shares with P.S. 3.
Parents and officials were quick to point out that longer-term solutions are needed to solve overcrowding and excessive class size throughout the Village, Chelsea and Tribeca.
“We were able to find space in the Village for the new kindergarten and pre-K classes, but we need to find a new space for the Clinton Academy for Writers and Artists so that P.S. 11 can have the whole building on W. 21st St.,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
“We want smaller class size,” said Margaret Chin, the Democratic nominee for the City Council District 1 seat, which covers the South Village, Soho and Noho, Lower Manhattan, Chinatown and the Lower East Side. Chin noted that she has a personal connection to P.S. 3 because her husband, Alan Tung, is an award-winning teacher of the fourth and fifth grades at the school.
Community Board 2, the Public School Parents Advocacy Committee and a new group, the N.Y.C. Kids Political Action Committee, joined elected officials in sponsoring the Sept. 23 rally.
“I think we’re inching closer to realizing our goal,” said Brad Hoylman, former C.B. 2 chairperson who was the master of ceremonies at the rally. Robert Ely, a member of P.S.P.A.C., said that the city Department of Education asked the state, in a letter dated Sept. 21, about making 75 Morton St. available for school use.
“We remain interested in the property as a school facility to serve students in the Village to supplement other steps we’ve taken to ease overcrowding in this neighborhood, such as opening a pre-K on Barrow St. [in Greenwich House] and entering an agreement with the Foundling Hospital [on 17th St. and Sixth Ave.],” said the letter, signed by Kathleen Grimm, D.O.E. deputy chancellor.
The letter could signal a shift in thinking since up until now, the D.O.E. has favored moving the Village school out of the neighborhood to 26 Broadway in the Financial District.
The building at 75 Morton St. is underused but still has state offices. D.O.E. asked if alternative sites for the offices have been identified and when the space might be available for conversion to school use.
The D.O.E. letter noted that the department must own the property or have a lease for at least seven years in order to commit funds for conversion of the building to a school: “Will the State be able to donate, sell or provide a seven-year or longer-term lease for 75 Morton St.?” the letter asked.
School advocates who toured the building last year discovered that elevator access was inadequate on the seventh floor proposed for the school space.
Nevertheless, Ely, who made the tour last year, said at the rally that he was optimistic about the potential use of the building’s lower floors for a middle school.
“The city should acquire the property now that real estate prices are down. Once the economy turns, it will be impossible — 75 Morton St. will go to a luxury residential developer,” he said.
Chin agreed: “I’m sick and tired of the city giving tax dollars to developers to build schools.”
Hoylman, who also attended last year’s tour of 75 Morton St., said that state offices occupy less that half of the building.
“It could accommodate three or four new schools,” Hoylman said.
Jo Hamilton, the new chairperson of C.B. 2, recalled attending last year’s rally.
“This rally is so important now,” she said, noting that 75 Morton St. would have a jump on conversion to school use because the property has a playground and a gym attached.
State Assemblymember Deborah Glick said that D.O.E. officials “should get out of Tweed and look at neighborhoods that need schools. It’s time for a solution now at 75 Morton St. — Now.”
Elected officials said Glick was the first official to identify 75 Morton St. as a potential school building.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer noted that his recent report on schools found that the city’s capital plan does not call for a new school in District 2 even though the number of residential units is rising along with the number of school-age children.
“D.O.E. must focus on long-term planning to deal with increasing population and I strongly believe that 75 Morton St. should be part of this plan,” Stringer said.
As for the stilt walkers, they came from Suellen Epstein’s children’s tumbling class on Warren St. in Tribeca.
“I’m glad to lend them for this important issue,” she said. “We all need schools.”