Volume 77 / Number 50 - May 14 - 20, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since

Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert

The bottom six floors of the Foundling Hospital building at Sixth Ave. and 17th St. would be developed as a new public elementary school under a plan announced by the mayor last week.

New school site is found in Foundling Hospital deal

By Albert Amateau

Village public school advocates who packed the May 8 Community Board 2 “Room to Learn” rally cheered at the announcement that a new elementary school is definitely planned for their overcrowded district and that more schools will follow.

A new, locally zoned elementary school, with seats for 563 students from pre-K to fifth grade, will be built in the first six floors of the present New York Foundling Hospital on Sixth Ave. and 17 St. The construction of the new school will be a public-private project with the city’s School Construction Authority, the Sisters of Charity — founders of both the Foundling Hospital and St. Vincent’s Hospital — and the Rudin Organization.

The project, announced by John Gilbert, vice president of Rudin — also the private partner in the proposed St. Vincent redevelopment — is a response to calls by P.S. 41 parents and Community Board 2 members, including Brad Hoylman, the board’s chairperson, and Keen Berger, for schools to keep pace with booming residential development and expanding school-age population.

Gilbert’s announcement drew a standing ovation from the 200 people at the May 8 rally.

But before the cheers died down, Alicia Hurley, New York University associate vice president for government and community affairs, told the crowd that N.Y.U. also will explore the creation of an elementary school as part of NYU Plan 2031, the university’s 25-year growth plan.

N.Y.U planners and members of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s community Task Force on N.Y.U. will look at the possible inclusion of a public school in a redeveloped Washington Square Village or in the Silver Towers area, Hurley said.

“We want to see if we can get a school a lot sooner than 2031,” said Hurley to renewed cheers from the audience.

“We’re in deep awe of these efforts,” said Hoylman, who conducted the May 8 rally. “It shows that developers can be creative when they listen to the community and have the will to respond to our needs,” he said. Hoylman paid tribute to community newspapers, including The Villager, for informing the public about school needs.

Nevertheless, Berger, chairperson of C.B. 2’s Social Services and Education Committee, said the overcrowded School District 2 still needs new early-childhood, middle and high schools. She recalled that the community board passed a resolution this year that it would not recommend any new residential development unless developers considered the need for new schools.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s representative at the rally, Kate Seely-Kirk, hailed the agreement, saying Quinn has always been passionate about reducing class size.

“It all started here,” said Councilmember Alan Gerson at the May 8 rally in the auditorium of P.S. 41, where he went to elementary school. He pledged to fight any planned reduction in the city education budget.

In a news release issued shortly before the rally, Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein said the city’s partnership with the Foundling Hospital and Rudin was a model for public-private partnerships that relieve school overcrowding.

The opportunity for the deal came at the beginning of the year when the Foundling Hospital, run by the Sisters of Charity, decided to sell its 20-year-old building at 590 Sixth Ave. in order to build a new pediatric center in Yonkers.

The Rudin Organization, a partner in the planned St. Vincent’s Hospital redevelopment, proposed to the School Construction Authority that the authority become a 60 percent condo owner and build a school on the first six floors, sharing the building with the Foundling Hospital, which would retain ownership of floors seven through 14 and occupy them as its administrative headquarters.

“Not every building can be converted to a school. There are ceiling heights and other requirements, ” Gilbert said. “We took School Construction architects through the building and they said they could do it.”

Although neither Rudin nor the city was able to put a money value on the deal at this time, the Foundling Hospital intends to use the proceeds to build the children’s hospital in Yonkers and to establish a charter school in the Bronx. Rudin will serve as the guarantor of the deal if the S.C.A. is forced to cancel.

But the mayor’s news statement on May 8 said the authority expects to close on the property by 2012.

Gilbert referred to recent contentious neighborhood meetings about the proposed St. Vincent’s project at which people demanded school space to be included in the residential side of the St. Vincent’s redevelopment.

“Some of you said then that Rudin doesn’t listen. Well, this shows that Rudin listens,” he told the May 8 audience.

Stringer lauded the Foundling Hospital deal and the N.Y.U. commitment, but he insisted that school space is still needed throughout Manhattan.

The borough president’s report on school overcrowding, “Crowded Out,” issued last month, said 100 percent of Greenwich Village and Soho elementary and middle school buildings were overcapacity and that there were 263 seats fewer than there were students in these districts. Moreover, 100 percent of Lower Manhattan schools were over or nearly overcapacity and there were 245 seats fewer than there were students. On the Upper East Side, 71 percent of elementary and middle schools were overcapacity and there were 189 seats fewer than enrolled students.

The Stringer report and a report by City Comptroller William Thompson issued on May 9 both say that the Education Department’s planning assumptions are flawed and need to be revised to correspond with the reality of student-age population.

Berger said the district needs “places to put new classroom space, money to support them and the political will to make it happen.”

A report by the C.B. 2 Social Service and Youth Committee and the Public School Parents Advocacy Committee calls for exploring a possible high school as part of the Pier 40 development at W. Houston St. Potential co-developers of Pier 40, the Pier 40 Partnership and Urban Dove/CampGroup, have included a school proposal in their combined proposal for Pier 40.

The C.B. 2/Parents Advocacy Committee report also eyes potential school space in the St. Vincent’s Hospital campus — specifically, the Reiss Pavilion. In the Hudson Square and the Far West Village area, their report cites 75 Morton St., a seven-story state-owned building, and four Trinity Real Estate properties — a recently cleared lot at 417 Canal St.; a building at 304 Hudson St. at Spring St.; a property at 114-122 Varick St., and a garage site at 555 Greenwich St. — as likely school sites.

The report also suggested that the St. John’s Center, stretching from Clarkson to Charlton Sts. between Washington and West Sts., could accommodate school space. The UPS-owned parking lot bounded by West, Washington and Spring Sts., currently under review for a Department of Sanitation garage, is another possible school location, the report says.

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