Volume 78 / Number 13, August 27 - September 2, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Back to School

Villager file photo

From left, Simona Dwass, 11, and Alba Dwass, both of Stuyvesant Town, and Bill Gerstel, P.S. 3 P.T.A. co-president, an East Village resident, at a rally in early August calling for 75 Morton St. to be converted to a middle school.

Will city make the grade on Morton middle school?

By Albert Amateau

Village school advocates and elected officials desperate for a new middle school in the state-owned building at 75 Morton St. to relieve overcrowding in the district were disappointed earlier this month when they learned that the city had not made a formal request for the property.

The Mayor’s Office and the Department of Education had said on Aug. 6 that the city had told the Empire State Development Corporation that the city was interested in acquiring the building, or part of it, for a middle school.

And while E.S.D.C. acknowledged that city and state officials had telephone conversations and exchanged e-mails expressing interest in the building, the state agency on Aug. 14 told a group of school advocates and aides to elected officials that the city had not made a formal written request for the building.

The Aug. 14 meeting was the day after a state-issued request for proposals, or R.F.P., was due from developers to acquire the building, formerly used as a school by the state Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities.

According to advocates and aides who attended the Aug. 14 meeting arranged by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Avi Schick, E.S.D.C. president, told them the city was not among the groups responding to the R.F.P. and had not sent any other written request for the property.

“That doesn’t mean the end of the road for a school at 75 Morton, but we are discouraged that the city wasn’t as focused as it should have been,” said Bethany Jankunis, chief of staff for Assemblymember Deborah Glick.

Irene Kaufman, a founder of the Village-based Public School Parent Advocacy Committee, who attended the Aug. 14 E.S.D.C. meeting, said last week, “There are a lot of elected officials and advocates still working to make this happen.” She recalled that, in addition to representatives from Glick’s and Stringer’s offices, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and State Senator Tom Duane were represented at the Aug. 14 meeting.

“I still believe it will happen, but I’m frustrated that the city hasn’t done something concrete,” Kaufman said.

The city Department of Education did not respond to phone calls for comment on the issue.

But some advocates acknowledged that, in the current economic downturn, the city would be reluctant to enter a bidding contest with private developers for the property, which includes a parking lot, in addition to the eight-story building erected in 1919. And advocates also conceded that, in hard times when Governor Paterson is calling for cuts to the state budget, the state could not easily afford to give the property away.

However, one potential solution would be for the state to call on developers to submit alternative proposals that include a school as part of the redevelopment, either in the building or on the parking lot.

At an Aug. 6 rally in front of 75 Morton St., Glick called for including a school in the R.F.P. The building, acquired by the state in 1967, complies with federal Americans With Disabilities Act standards that require handicap access, and is perfect for an elementary or middle school, Glick said.

The need for more school space in an overcrowded school district has been a frequent topic of community meetings this year.

A report, “Crowded Out,” that Borough President Stringer issued in April, said that in the 2006-’07 school year, 100 percent of Greenwich Village and Soho elementary school buildings were overcapacity, by a total of 263 seats. And, the report stated, between 2000 and 2007, the city approved new buildings in the Village and Soho estimated to add more than 150 new students to the area, but created no new student capacity.

At the Aug. 6 rally, Brad Hoylman, chairperson of Community Board 2, noted that the two Greenwich Village elementary schools are overcapacity, P.S. 41 at 112 percent, and P.S. 3 at 111 percent. Robert Ely, a P.S. 3 parent, said at the rally that including a school in 75 Morton St. “is a cost-effective way to get a new school now, rather than having to pay for property later.”

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