Volume 78 / Number 3 - June 18 - 24, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since

Talking Point

The case for 75 Morton St. as a new middle school 

By Robert Ely

Reusing 75 Morton St. is an interesting concept for a new middle school that could provide an immediate, inexpensive, turnkey solution to the problem of school overcrowding in our community. While the lack of space in our elementary schools has received a significant amount of attention lately, middle schools deserve the same kind of focus.

Overcrowding in our middle schools is great, and expected to worsen, as further residential development in lower Manhattan continues to change the urban landscape. At the same time, increasing construction costs and budget cuts facing the New York City Department of Education and School Construction Authority require innovative and cost-effective solutions. 

Thus, 75 Morton St. may very well be the immediate solution at a reasonable cost. This is a very large, seven-story building located at Morton and Greenwich Sts. in the Far West Village. It is owned and operated by the state of New York. The building currently houses the New York State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, but this state agency is being moved to a new location so that our state can sell the building. The question we should all be asking is — to whom?

The building has an extremely large, auditorium-like conference room on the first floor, a cafeteria in the basement, large offices that can be easily transformed into classrooms, is fully handicapped accessible, has two entrances and has the high ceiling heights required by the Department of Education. The location is safe for children, close to the M-20 bus line and No. 1 subway line, and convenient not only to the Far West Village and Hudson Square, but also Soho and Tribeca.

There is also the story of the Greenwich Village Middle School, a thriving intermediate school right around the corner from 75 Morton St., a school that has existed on the fifth floor of the P.S. 3 building for several years. Essentially ignored in the recent “District 2 Blueprint” to relieve overcrowding in our local schools, G.V.M.S. earned an “A” grade on the D.O.E. progress reports earlier this year, causing a resurgence of interest in the school from local families.

The faculty and staff of G.V.M.S. have worked graciously with the limited facilities they have been given, and their need to grow as a school is great. Overcrowding is evident when one walks the halls, and faculty members who are deserving of a dedicated classroom must work out of rolling carts as they transition from class to class. Meanwhile, 75 Morton provides a viable opportunity to give a new home to G.V.M.S., which is currently at 117 percent capacity, which will further help to ease the chronic overcrowding problems at P.S. 3 and P.S. 41. 

While the other plans for new schools in lower Manhattan (Beekman, the “Green School” and the Foundry at 17th St.) will help in four or five years, 75 Morton St. can be an immediate solution, with minimal expense, to the Village’s burgeoning middle school problem. In addition, middle school kids south of Canal St. could also be drawn to 75 Morton St. to relieve the significant problems of overcrowding further Downtown at P.S. 234 and P.S. 89 in Battery Park City. 

A local developer, Peter Moore, owns a very large building and a parking lot across the street from 75 Morton St. He recently proposed a rezoning of the five-block area around 75 Morton to convert this commercial-only area between Hudson St. and the West Side Highway to mixed use so that he could build a 560-unit residential development. Not surprisingly, local opposition was significant due to the lack of infrastructure in the surrounding area, most notably the existing overcrowded local schools, in addition to the questionable future of 75 Morton St.

Developers such as Mr. Moore should not be given the opportunity to create additional residential developments in our area without first helping our community with a new school.

The site at 75 Morton St. is currently zoned for manufacturing only, but it is not very difficult to read between the lines. There are currently no restrictions imposed by the state on the sale of the building. The property’s availability is expected to be posted on the Empire State Development Corporation’s Web site within the next week.

Because the city’s School Construction Authority has expressed an interest in using the property as a school, the more looming question is whether E.S.D.C. will be responsive to the concept of creating a badly needed middle school in our community. A subsidiary of this same state agency — the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation — was set up to coordinate rebuilding and distribution of billions of dollars in federal funds after the tragedy of 9/11, as well as distributing Liberty Bonds that were used to rebuild lower Manhattan. Consequently, it only seems sensible that this same state agency that worked so diligently to make it possible for so many new families to move into our community should concede us a new middle school to complement the rebuilding effort. 

As at Pier 40, the entire community should be keeping a close eye on the ultimate development of 75 Morton St. A recent petition with more than 400 signatures advocating for converting 75 Morton St. into a school has already been presented to our local leaders. Thus, this story is just beginning.

Ely has two young children currently attending P.S. 3, in the first and third grades, on Hudson St. in Greenwich Village.

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