City Announces Deal for Elementary School on Former Syms Site

The Syms Clothing store in December, 2011, shortly before it shut down and went into bankruptcy. The Syms company reemerged as Trinity Place Holdings, with apparent plans for a major development on the site, now to include an elementary school. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Jan. 15, 2016

Four years after Downtown school advocates first pitched the idea of creating a school in the newly vacated Syms Clothing store site at 42 Trinity Pl., officials announced on Thursday that it will finally happen.

The city’s School Construction Authority (SCA) said in a statement that it had reached the deal with the property’s owner, Trinity Place Holdings, which is expected to construct a super-tall residential tower on the site. A design for the “approximately” 476-seat elementary school in the base of the tower is anticipated to be ready by the beginning of this summer, according to the statement. No mention was made of when the school would open or begin construction.

In November 2013, the city allocated $27.5 million in its five-year school construction budget for a 476-seat school, and members of then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s School Overcrowding Task Force had grown increasingly frustrated by the Department of Education’s seeming intransigence at finding a site for it. Although word of a possible Syms deal had been in the air, officials appeared to have rejected that location.

“There were solid concrete reasons why they had turned it down then and obviously something has changed,” said Tricia Joyce, chair of Community Board 1’s Youth and Education Committee. “I’m really happy about it because we always thought that would be a great building for a school.”

While the zoning for the school is yet to be determined, population studies by CB1 show that the greatest need, by far, is for families living in the Financial District. The new school may also reduce crowding at P.S./I.S. 276 in southern Battery Park City. But like the Spruce Street School, built at the base of the residential Beekman Tower at 8 Spruce St., the new school may not be able to open until the tower above is completed. (It commonly takes five years from the siting of a school until its opening).

“The fact that a school is going to be there is terrific news,” said CB1 Chair Catherine McVay Hughes. “There is not a public elementary school in the Financial District.”

“The details of how long it will take for that building to be built,” she added, “we don’t know.”

And could it become a kindergarten to 8th grade school, like P.S./I.S. 276 and the Spruce Street School? Thats what Wendy Chapman and Buxton Midyette, founders of Build Schools Now, are calling for. While still in the planning stage we hope the DOE and SCA expand the scope of this project to address the ever growing population downtown, they said in a statement.

The news comes as local elected officials are reviving the school task force, which had disbanded with the conviction of Silver on corruption charges. The first meeting, to be hosted by state Sen. Daniel Squadron, is set for Feb. 4.

CB1 Youth Committee co-chair Paul Hovitz said that even with the new school, there is still plenty of work for the task force. “We need to see what can be done to significantly increase the number of seats,” said Hovitz, who was among those who suggested the Syms site when the retailer filed for bankruptcy in 2011. “And we need to make sure that we are securing Tweed Courthouse again as an incubation site for the school.”

Finally, he added, “We’d like more middle school seats, as well.”