Community Board 1 (CB1) is calling on City officials who are planning a new elementary school in the Financial District to expand the project to include more school seats, a middle school, and a full-sized gymnasium.
“Once again the Department of Education [DOE] has designed a school with a ‘gymatorium’ plan, which we are all vehemently opposed to,” explained Tricia Joyce at the March 22 monthly meeting of CB1. “It is a room that is a combination of a gym and an auditorium. This, in a neighborhood where only three of our nine schools have full-sized gyms. Not only does this gym have to serve this school, but it has to provide space for youth activities, sports programs, after-school, and a myriad of other things.”
The school, which was announced in January, will be located at the site of the now-defunct Syms discount clothing store, on the block bounded by Edgar Street to the south, Greenwich Street on the west, Rector Street to the north, and Trinity Place on the east. It will be incorporated into the base of a larger project, a new residential skyscraper that is also slated to rise on the site. Dates for the start of construction and the opening of the school have not yet been announced. Both milestones are likely to be contingent on the construction schedule of the apartment tower above. But the school’s design is being finalized now. A preliminary plan has been circulated to CB1, which has only until April 15 to respond to it. And the final version of the plan is expected to be locked in by this summer.
Spire Education: The new school is planned for space at the bottom of this proposed residential tower, on Greenwich Street. Community leaders want City officials to bargain for more space within the structure to expand the new school, with additional seats, more grades, and a full-sized gymnasium.
Ms. Joyce, who chairs CB1’s Youth & Education Committee, also said of the provisional plan for the new school (which is slated to include 476 seats), “it’s too small.” She additionally voiced frustration that, “it took DOE and the School Construction Authority [SCA] four years to fund this school and two and a half years to site it, and it’s going to take another four years to build it. And they’ve acknowledged that the last time they looked at population projections for this community was 2013.”
She then introduced a resolution petitioning the DOE and SCA to address three urgent needs. First, the measure calls for a review of options to increase the physical space allocated to the new school within the residential tower, and grow the school’s capacity beyond 476 seats. (This plank also presses for the school’s scope to be expanded from a kindergarten-through-fifth grade elementary school, to include the middle school grades of six, seven, and eight.) Second, the proposal urges that plans for the school be revised to incorporate, “a full gym and full auditorium, without compromising space for either,” so that these facilities, “can serve not only the attending students but also the larger community.” And finally, the resolution supports the creation of “a task force to incorporate community input into the planning process for the new school.”
Ms. Joyce acknowledged that implementing these proposals will require DOE and the SCA, “to take more space than they presently have in their deal,” with the developer of the residential tower that will rise above the school. But at an earlier meeting, the February 5 session of the School Overcrowding Task Force convened by a coalition of elected officials representing Lower Manhattan, Buxton Midyette, the co-founder of Build Schools Now (a grassroots initiative that seeks to ease Lower Manhattan’s chronic shortage of classroom seats by advocating for construction of more schools), noted that the City often finds space for new schools within the lower portions of upcoming development projects, because “floors two through six have the least value in any development, and we are doing a great service to developers by taking this problem off their plates.” At the March 22 CB1 meeting, Ms. Joyce observed, “this developer is very eager,” for the benefits that could come from allocating more space within the building to a school. (These benefits can include tax incentives, preferential financing, zoning variances, and a guaranteed, long-term stream of rental income.)
After Ms. Joyce’s presentation, the membership of CB1 passed the resolution unanimously.