Volume 17 • Issue 37 | February 11 - 17, 2005

Mayor, Silver and Ratner discuss new school’s details

Downtown Express photos by Elisabeth Robert
Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, Mayor Bloomberg and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver at last Friday’s school announcement. Developer Bruce Ratner, bottom also attended.

By Josh Rogers

Downtown residents’ long-term efforts to get a new school in Lower Manhattan moved closer to reality Friday when Mayor Mike Bloomberg announced the city would build a K-8 school as part of a 75-story residential tower to be designed by Frank Gehry.

The mayor’s decision, first reported in last week’s Downtown Express, will include room for 600 students and is scheduled to open Sept. 2008. Developer Bruce Ratner agreed to build a five-story school adjacent to the Gehry tower on the parking lot between Beekman, Spruce, Nassau and Gold Sts. At the end of last year, Forest City Ratner bought the site from NYU Downtown Hospital, which will also have an ambulatory care facility in the new building.

The school will cost about $65 million, with $45 million coming from the city and $20 million expected from the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. After the announcement, Ratner said that if there are cost overruns, he would be responsible for any added expenses.

Judy Trazino, who lives right near the site at Southbridge Towers, called the announcement “wonderful” news. The middle school will open too late to help her daughter in the third grade but she hopes the school will have a good, structured environment for her daughter in the first grade at P.S. 42 on the Lower East Side.

“At 11 years old, I think kids are too young to be going to school by public transportation,” she said in a telephone interview.

Many parents in Battery Park City feel the same way and recently sent a petition to Bloomberg asking him to turn I. S. 89 into a zoned middle school. The new school will undoubtedly relieve the Downtown overcrowding problems but may not solve the middle school zoning issues. B.P.C. parents now must apply for a place in I.S. 89 and are only guaranteed a slot at M.S. 104 on E. 21st St., almost an hour away from the neighborhood by public transportation.

Klein suggested Friday that the new East Side middle school primarily will be for students coming up through the elementary school, implying that there may not be much room for graduates of the West Side elementary schools, P.S. 89, P.S. 234 and P.S. 150.

“I think it will be a big, big thing to have that continuity through elementary and middle school,” Klein said at Tweed Courthouse, the Dept. of Education’s headquarters.

Councilmember Alan Gerson said he thinks the zoning for the Lower Manhattan schools should be reexamined and that he has raised the issue with Peter Heaney, superintendent of Region 9. Gerson had the sense that Heaney was taking the issue seriously, but Heaney did not return a call for comment.

Last fall, Gerson signed a letter with Dep. Mayor Dan Doctoroff in which the city agreed to make its best efforts to find a K- 8 school site on the East Side. When the site search appeared to stall, there was speculation that Bloomberg was dragging his feet in an effort to convince another school advocate, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, to support construction of a football stadium over the Hudson Rail Yards.

Both the mayor and Silver denied the stadium entered into the discussions. When Silver was asked if he now felt more inclined to support the stadium, the mayor jumped in to say, “boy I wish that were the case.”

For his part, Silver said: This is not about a stadium. This is about the future of Downtown Manhattan….

“There is no better sign that a community is safe and growing and a desirable place to live than when leaders come together to create new public school,” Silver said.

Lower Manhattan is the fastest growing part of the city and Madelyn Wils, Community Board 1 chairperson and a member of the L.M.D.C. board, said with all of the residential construction underway Downtown’s population is expected to reach 60,000 next year double from what it was in 2000.

Bloomberg said he was “comfortable we’ll get the [school] money from the L.M.D.C.”

The mayor appoints half the members to the L.M.D.C. and the man who appoints the other half, Gov. George Pataki, has previously expressed support for building a K-8 in Lower Manhattan.

The L.M.D.C. has about $820 million left in its funds for Downtown and is planning to release a plan for the rest of the money in March, at the conclusion of negotiations with the governor and mayor.

Carl Weisbrod, a Bloomberg appointee to the L.M.D.C. board, attended the school announcement and said a few days later about the requested $20 million, “If it’s needed, of course I will support it.”

Weisbrod, president of the Downtown Alliance, said schools increase real estate values. Weisbrod was formerly president of the Economic Development Corp., which made a deal to build P.S. 234 in 1988 with revenue from what was then called the Shearson tower on Greenwich St.

“One of the great economic development projects that E.D.C. did was the construction of P.S. 234,” Weisbrod said in a telephone interview. “It was one of the important factors that made Tribeca into the fabulous community that it is.”

Ratner said at the press conference that he thought of the school as an amenity but he was not sure exactly how much value it added to his project. Ratner said he is charging the city roughly the same rate he wanted from Pace University to join the project. Pace pulled out of the deal a few months ago because the price was too high. The city will own the 100,000-square-foot school and Bloomberg likened it to a condo in the development. It will be on the west side of the project. To the west of the school will be a 13,000 square foot plaza which will serve as a buffer for Nassau St. residents who had objected to the tower being too close to their buildings.

The $570 million tower will be to the east. Ratner had previously told Downtown Express that Gehry’s initial renderings showed a wavy tower and the developer motioned his hands in the shape of a woman to illustrate his point. Ratner said Friday he expects to see new renderings from the renowned architect in about a month, but he assumes the general shape will be the same.

Ratner plans to build 200-250 traditional condos on the upper floors and 450 – 500 rental apartments in the rest of the building.


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