One of the two classrooms Manhattan Youth has been leasing to P.S. 234. The youth group is asking for about $260,000 a year and the city is offering about $84,000.
P.S. 234 may lose lease for 2 classrooms
By Julie Shapiro
P.S. 234 is in danger of losing two classrooms this fall.
For the past two years, P.S. 234 has been holding art and science classes next-door in Manhattan Youth’s Downtown Community Center, opening up more space for regular classes in the overcrowded Tribeca school. But the Dept. of Education’s lease on the two Manhattan Youth rooms is up at the end of the school year, and renewal negotiations have stalled.
“We are so far apart that I don’t know what to do,” said Bob Townley, executive director of Manhattan Youth. “I don’t know what the solution is.”
The city offered to pay $48 per square foot for the two classrooms, Townley said, but he wants $150 per square foot, a difference of about $175,000 a year. That’s how much Manhattan Youth would need to rent and fit out similar space nearby, replacing the space the community center is losing to the school, he said. The Dept. of Education did not contradict Townley’s numbers.
[The original version of this article in the March 19 hard copy of Downtown Express incorrectly said the D.O.E. offered Townley $46 per square foot. Townley gave the slightly lower figure at a public meeting two weeks ago, and the D.O.E. representative at the meeting did not dispute it. The original version also overestimated Manhattan Youth’s annual rent take by about $22,000, because the D.O.E. does not use the space when school is not in session.]
Townley is considering converting one of the rooms P.S. 234 is using into a technology lab, and using the other for active recreation space for young children. The community needs those services and Manhattan Youth wants to provide them, either in the Downtown Community Center or nearby, Townley said.
“We have to sustain our community center,” Townley said. “We need that space or we need comparable space.”
If Townley and the city do not reach a deal, P.S. 234 will be able to fit the same number of students, but art and science teachers will travel from classroom to classroom with a cart of supplies this fall, rather than having their own rooms. P.S. 234 Principal Lisa Ripperger suggested last week that this would not be a good situation, and many P.S. 234 parents are unhappy as well.
“I don’t think you should have to give up these types of classrooms,” said Kevin Doherty, former P.T.A. president and current first vice president. “Putting it on a cart is not a satisfactory solution, period…. As a taxpaying citizen, that’s not what you expect a school to be.”
Doherty said holding messy art and science lessons in regular classrooms would require extra cleanup time, which would take away from instruction time.
Tricia Joyce, another P.S. 234 parent leader, called the city’s position “unconscionable” given the school’s overcrowding.
When Townley described the situation last Thursday to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s school overcrowding taskforce, Silver also said it was imperative that the two sides come to an agreement.
“Clearly with our schools still dealing with overcrowded conditions, we can’t afford to relinquish any space in the community,” Silver said.
But Elizabeth Rose, director of portfolio planning for the D.O.E., said the city has already made a fair offer for the space.
Townley said the city’s offer would be fair for raw space, but the community center is already fitted out with everything from ventilation systems to bathrooms, and it is also built to the city’s strict standards for classroom space.
This week, Townley called for an independent arbiter with real estate experience to hear the case and make a decision.
Without a deal, Townley will lose nearly $85,000 a year that the city was willing to pay for the two rooms, which total about 2,000 square feet. Townley said he could make up that money by running other programs in the rooms.
Townley added that he would be willing to drop the square footage price and lease even more space to the city on a longer-term basis, but Rose did not appear interested in that proposal. P.S. 234 already has a seven-classroom annex in the community center building, thanks to an agreement with Jack Resnick & Sons, the developer of the condo building at 200 Chambers St.
Doherty, who has fought many battles on behalf of P.S. 234, said he was optimistic that Townley and the city would work out a deal before September.
“It’s early,” he said. “Calm heads will prevail.”