More than 100 concerned students, parents, and community leaders turned out for a rally on the steps of P.S. 150 in Tribeca last Tuesday, to voice outrage at the school’s pending closure.
Anshal Purohit, co-president of the P.S. 150 Parent-Teacher Association and the parent of a fourth grader at the highly regarded elementary school, told the crowd, “we were notified in October that we are going to be evicted.” She noted that while discussion has been ongoing for many months between the School Construction Authority (SCA) and Vornado Realty, the landlord of the space that P.S. 150 occupies within the Independence Plaza complex on Greenwich Street, “we were shocked that we were being given just one year. We’ve asked Vornado to come back to the table with a winning solution for these children. They have yet to do so.”
Ms. Purohit continued, “we’re here to talk about three things: community, responsibility, and value. A community is a fellowship — people who share values, and ideas. And our school is a valuable part of this community. So what do we do when someone comes in and tells us that they don’t value our community? We push back! We say no!” At this, the crowd erupted in cheers.
“Vornado stands to gain a lot by developing here,” she reflected. “Thus, they are a large member of our community. As such they have to act with responsibility. We ask them to consider the short- and the long-term impacts of that development as they weigh their plans.”
This was a reference to the plan formulated by the SCA and the Department of Education (DOE), which envisions moving P.S. 150’s student body to a space within the already-overcrowded Peck Slip School, in the South Street Seaport, and then moving the school again a few years later, when a new school — currently under construction in the Financial District, on Trinity Place — opens its doors. This disruption is necessitated by Vornado’s plans to create an upscale gymnasium in the space currently occupied by P.S. 150, as a way of luring affluent tenants to Independence Plaza.
“Moving our children twice in the next four years, for the promise of a gym for the future luxury tenants of this building is not okay,” Ms. Purohit exclaimed. “It is not an acceptable solution. We ask that whatever the past conversations, whatever the history, that Vornado come to the table now with a solution that works harder for our children. This is about values — our values.”
City Council member Margaret Chin told the crowd, “we saved this school in 2013 and we’re going to do it again.” This was a reference to a previous plan to shutter P.S. 150, and move its students to a new facility at 17th Street and Sixth Avenue. Heated community opposition, and united leadership by local elected officials convinced the administration of then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg to back away from this plan. A reprise of that effort now appears likely.
“Vornado and Stellar — what are they thinking?” she asked. “Evict the school and turn it into luxury amenities? The first thing people want to know about when moving to a neighborhood is the schools. The best amenity for this building is to have an award-winning school. The landlord has to offer short-term and long-term solutions. Because we need school seats right here.”
“You have fought for school seats,” Ms. Chin reminded the assembled crowd. “We fought to build more new schools. And we cannot afford to lose one single school seat. So we are urging Vornado and Stellar to come back to the table and talk to DOE and SCA to find a creative solution to keep P.S. 150 here. As a community, we need all of you get your friends your relatives to support this. We need our voices to be heard and we have to make sure that we save P.S. 150.”
Ms. Chin was followed by State Senator Brian Kavanagh, who said, “this school is a great treasure for this community that needs to be saved. A school is not a simple thing to create and not a simple thing to maintain. It takes more than just a building. It’s not just a bunch of families and a bunch of teachers and you put them all in one place and good things happen. It takes a lot of work and a lot of commitment over a long period of time. That commitment and that work cannot simply be uprooted and moved from place to place and have its integrity and strength maintained.”
“We need the developer and the City of New York to come back to the table,” he added. “It takes two sides to negotiate. All we have heard so far is finger-pointing with the City saying the developer is at fault and the developer saying the City is at fault. But there is one thing we know: Neither the parents nor the students standing behind me are at fault. They should not be suffering, and at the end of the day, we need to keep the school intact. We need to keep the school here.”
State Assembly member Deborah Glick began by noting, “I’m happy to be here, but also unhappy. We should not have to fight again to keep P.S. 150 where it belongs. This is a very big city, but it is a web of neighborhoods. And the essence, the central focus of a neighborhood is its educational institutions. The schools are a focal point for families and communities in general.”
“In other places, in other big cities,” she continued, “developers are required by mandate to be good citizens and participate in ensuring that certain essential institutions are taken care of. And schools are an essential institution.”
“Asking the P.S. 150 community to reinvent itself every four years is an outrage,” she insisted. “The only reason that Vornado is in this community is because of the people who have been here, have been pioneers for generations. And the fact is that they worked hard to make a community that was so vital and so interesting that people who never thought to go below 14th street flooded down here. And now that they’re here, developers have consistently plugged into our high-quality schools as a selling point. And they should be selling the schools out!”
Tricia Joyce, chair of Community Board 1’s Youth and Education Committee, said, “it disappoints me to have to look out at people giving their time again to come together to fight bad decisions. How can they value this school so little that they give just a few months notice?”
“Did the people in the room who made that decision consider the families who thought so hard about applying to this school? Families with kindergarten students who will have to move twice before fifth grade?” she asked.
“A child gets only one chance to get an elementary school education,” Ms. Joyce continued. “We need drive home the point, if nothing else, that communities are made by schools. Communities gather around schools. And it is families who support landlords.”
“This was not a surprise, the expiration of this lease,” she added. “The SCA and DOE did not find this out in October. They knew years ago that the writing was on the wall for this space. Out of respect for these families, out of respect for this gem of an award-winning school, that has been drawing families to this neighborhood — making this neighborhood safe, making this neighborhood valuable for these developers, making it valuable for the SCA — we need them to show us respect by acting like grownups and going back into that room and making this deal.”
“We will be fighting for you,” she concluded, “and we will not give up!”
Bob Townley, director of Manhattan Youth, asked, “how did this happen? How did you get to this point, where they’re going to kick the school out? How do you explain this to the students?”
“When developers build buildings,” he continued, “they usually use their own money and face something called risk. These developers did not take any risk. They bought Independence Plaza,” which was constructed by the City in the 1970s as public owned affordable housing, “under a sweetheart deal. And then, when everybody wants to move into Tribeca, they want to kick out the school.”
“Money should not be the deciding factor in where and how we take care of our children,” he exclaimed. “You guys should stay here, you should play here, and we should all put our money together and buy the building back.”
As the rally drew to a close, Buxton Midyette, a P.S. 1250 parent and longtime public schools advocate who helped to organize Tuesday’s rally, led the crowd in repeated chants of, “we won’t go!”
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