DOE Official Says Only One 456-Seat School Is in Downtown's Future

In the P.S./I.S. 89 auditorium, Michael Mirisola of the city's School Construction Authority talks to the Community Education Council about the city's plans for building new schools. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Nov. 21, 2013

Updated Mon. 12/02/13

Reacting with shock and dismay, Downtown school advocates learned last month that the city plans to build only one school below Canal Street in the coming years, instead of two they ex­pected.

Earlier in November, the city re­leased its much-anticipated capital plan for building and maintaining public schools over the next five years, a report widely understood to include two 456-seat schools that would relieve overcrowding within Community Board 1.

But in a presentation on the plan to School District 2’s Community Ed­ucation Council, Michael Mirisola, a School Construction Authority official, said that only one school would be sited below Canal Street, CB1’s northern boundary.

“It is disappointing and shocking to get the news tonight,” Buxton Midyette, a P.S. 150 parent and School Leadership Team member, said at the meeting. “Of the 912 seats we expected, there is still going to be a shortfall of 456 seats.”

“I’m floored,” said Paul Hovitz, co-chair of Community Board 1’s Youth and Education Committee. “We’re going to end up with wait lists again.”

Speaking at Community Board 1’s monthly meeting the next evening, As­sembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said, “We believe those seats belong in Battery Park City and the Financial District and we will press that point very, very strenuously…that’s what we want those seats to represent.”

“If we can get a thousand seats down here,” he added, “it will go a long way towards alleviating the problem.”

Members of Silver’s School Over­crowding Task Force had hailed a city Department of Education report from earlier this year that acknowledged, for the first time, a coming shortfall of 1,000 school seats in Lower Manhattan—a subdistrict called “Greenwich Village/­Tribeca” and defined by the DOE as below 14th Street and west of Broadway. The task force had previously identified a need for more than 1,200 seats in the area covered by Community Board 1 and assumed that the new schools would be built in their area.

Some school advocates say they had been reassured that the 912 seats would be located below Canal Street.

“I am thrilled that the Department of Education’s new capital plan includes funding for two new elementary schools in Lower Manhattan,” Silver had said in a statement at the time.

The draft capital plan had cryptically named four of the new District 2 schools “Project 1,” “Project 2,” etc., without giving their locations. (A DOE spokeswoman had de­clined to answer questions from the Trib about the schools.)

As it turns out, Mirisola informed the CEC panel, “Project 1”—the other Lower Manhattan school—is a previously announced elementary school planned for Hudson Square. It is a school that Trinity Real Estate is obliged to build as part of its deal with the city to rezone the neighborhood in order to allow large-scale development.

The school, budgeted to receive $27.5 million in city money, is expected to be filled with children from the new residential buildings. If not, zoning for the school could include parts of Tribeca, thus relieving pressure on P.S. 234.

Of the other two unnamed schools, besides the one likely to be built Downtown, one is for the retrofitting of a former parochial school on West 33rd Street while the other is planned for Hudson Yards. Both the 33rd Street School and the yet-to-be sited Downtown school will each have seats for 456 students and each budgeted at about $50 million.

In February, an amended version of the capital plan will be submitted for approval to the city's Panel for Educational Policy. It will then be voted on by the City Council in June. Silver's task force is expected to take up the issue at its Dec. 3 meeting.