Harbor School Parents Push for Ramp in Expansion Plans
Parents at the Harbor School on Governors Island are pushing for a connection between buildings that will enhance student safety and access for the disabled, but say the City’s School Construction Authority (SCA) is sending their idea to detention.
At issue is a proposal to build a covered walkway between two buildings used by the Harbor School. This structure would create access for the disabled where there is none currently, because existing stairs at the doors of both structures prevent the use of wheelchairs and mobility scooters, and pose a hazard to anyone using crutches. The walkway would serve as a ramp, eliminating the stairs. A sheltered path would mean that students and staff would not have to walk through ice and snow that periodically accumulate between the buildings, owing to the exposed location of Governors Island in the midst of New York Harbor.
“We really want to press them on this,” explains Nan Richardson, who chairs the School Expansion & Advocacy committee of the Harbor School’s Parent-Teacher Association. “Having a walkway between the two buildings is very practical. And not having it raises problems under the Americans with Disabilities Act, because it forces anybody who is in a wheelchair or on crutches to go all the way around the building.” She adds that the SCA has raised concerns that blocking the existing sidewalk with a covered walkway could impede access by emergency vehicles, and that the new structure might require approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The two buildings occupied by the Harbor School are legally protected landmarks.
Jason Popkin, a Harbor School parent who is also an architect, reviewed plans for the covered walkway at the December 14 meeting of the Landmarks Preservation Committee of Community Board 1 (CB1). “In one version of this proposal,” he explained, “we could connect the two buildings with a canopy high enough that a fire engine or ambulance could get through. This would at least give kids protection from rain and snow.”
Ms. Richardson added, “we think this is a very reasonable and practical request, and they’re not taking it seriously.” She said formulating such a proposal now is optimal because the Harbor School is planning an expansion in which it will grow from two buildings to four.
When Landmarks Preservation Committee chair Jason Friedman speculated that the SCA’s reluctance to embrace the plan might stem from its cost, Ms. Richardson replied, “we’re sitting on $1.6 million that we could use for this walkway, so that can’t be the excuse.”
After the meeting, CB1 chair Tammy Meltzer wrote to the SCA, saying, “the landmark questions on Governors Island fall far below the public interest, safety and accessibility needs of the students and staff of the Harbor School.”