New York City is restarting $17 billion worth of capital projects which were frozen last year amid serious budget concerns caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Monday.
More than 1,700 projects will be given the green light by the end of March including work on repairing city infrastructure, building affordable housing and schools in order to help bring back livelihoods lost to the pandemic, de Blasio said.
“This is a city of building things…We build things, we keep building things and we never stop building, ” de Blasio said during a morning press conference. Governor Andrew Cuomo paused all non-essential construction in New York state last March which was brought back in phases in the spring and summer.
The mayor stressed the importance of continuing school construction to mitigate overcrowding as the city prepares to bring all students back into classrooms by September.
“Lots of communities still experience overcrowding in schools and that is going to be the case again in a few short months,” said de Blasio. “So we have got to get back to work building more school capacity in the communities that need it the most.”
New York City public schools have long struggled with overcrowding and small classrooms with the Department of Education reporting that out of its 1,413 school buildings 618 are crowded, according to a Citizens Budget Commission report released in 2019. The report adds that the buildings can hold 520,000 out of the city’s over 1 million public and charter school students but that capacity is 95, 984 seats fewer than required.
The mayor’s decision to pause school construction projects during the coronavirus pandemic was a missed opportunity to address capacity issues Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, told amNewYork Metro. Having schools closed, although unfortunate, provided a good time for renovations and school expansion projects which in pre-pandemic times were usually done in the summer months.