A PS 150 'Bitter Sweet' Celebration on the Stairs, Maybe Its Last

On Halloween morning, PS 150 students perform on the steps of Independence Plaza that lead to their school. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib 

Posted
Nov. 01, 2018

As they have for years, the students of PS 150 continued the school’s Halloween tradition on Wednesday, but this time with a wistful difference.

The children gathered in costume on the steps that lead to their school building in Independence Plaza on Greenwich Street. Directed by music teacher Tony Kunin, they sang a medley of Halloween-themed songs before an audience of parents, proud and beaming as ever, but keenly aware that this Halloween celebration in Tribeca may be the school’s last.

“It does feel different this time,” said Buxton Midyette, the father of two former and one current PS 150 students. “It’s sweet but bitter because we don’t know that there will necessarily be another one.”

“It was very emotional,” Jenny Bonnet, the principal, said of the celebration. “It’s something we’ve been doing on these stairs for years. Just the thought that it might be the last one on the stairs made a lot of us sad.”

Unless the owners of Independence Plaza, the school’s landlord, can be persuaded otherwise, the school community will be forced to move after this school year, “co-locating” at the Peck Slip School in the Seaport. Earlier in October, three school parents along with a slew of elected officials or their staff, and Community Board 1 vice chair Paul Hovitz, met with representatives of Vornado Realty Trust and Stellar Management, the owners of Independence Plaza. They made their case for staying put until 2022, when the school’s new building at 42 Trinity Place is expected to be completed.

There was no change of heart, the parents said.

“It was a meeting where Vornado and Stellar came in with their decision made,” said Anshal Purohit, the mother of a 4th grader who spoke for the parents.

Purohit said the owners representatives told them they had already been through discussions on a lease extension with the Department of Education’s School Construction Authority and their minds had not changed. (The owners had agreed to a three-year extension in 2015, which ended in August, followed by a one-year extension for the current school year.)

“But the tone was, well, you haven’t had this conversation with us,” Purohit said. “Not with these parties at the table, and with their support.”

Among those in the room to advocate for the school were Councilwoman Margaret Chin, State Sen. Brian Kavanagh, Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, and CB1’s Paul Hovitz.

Despite the absence of any noticeable progress from the meeting, Chin “remains cautiously optimistic that a conversation can continue between the SCA and the DOE and the landlords,” Paul Leonard, Chin’s chief of staff, who also attended the meeting, told the Trib in a phone interview. “It has to.”

“We’re going to continue to work with the parents, other elected officials and everybody to see that these [the SCA and owners] meet and come to an agreement,” Leonard added, “and we will continue to encourage them to do so.”

Just what sort of incentive, if any, could convince the owners to change their minds remains unclear. A spokesmen for the landlords did not respond to questions from the Trib but referred to the owners’ Oct. 18 letter sent to Chin. Explaining their position on a lease extention, the owners cited uncertainty over the school’s future dating back to 2013 when the DOE had a plan, later abandoned, to move the school community to a new building in Chelsea. It also noted “the need for additional residential units and amenities” at Independence Plaza. Both factors, they said, meant that P.S. 150 would have to leave the building. The owners agreed to a three-year extension in 2015, then what they underlined as a “final” one in March 2018, allowing the school to stay one more year.

It was only in early October that the SCA announced that PS 150 would be forced to leave its home at the end of the school year. The owners said they had urged the the DOE to notify the school parents long before.

“We wish to emphasize that we share the frustration of the P.S. 150 community that they just learned of this relocation only two weeks ago,” the owners wrote.

Michael Mirisola, director of external affairs for the SCA, told the District 2 Community Education Council last month that the Authority did not want to unleash a potential parent backlash during negotiations because “basically you blow a deal.”

Whether or not that backlash is too late, a rally for the school with elected officials is being planned for the week of Nov. 12.