Counting Chinatown’s potholes and puddles

By Ronda Kaysen

Volume 19 • Issue 7 | July 7-13, 2006

Funding dispute will delay Beekman school by a year

The Beekman School on the East Side of Lower Manhattan will not open until 2009, a year behind schedule, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver blames the mayor for the delay.

The K-8 public school will open inside a new 75-story, Frank Gehry-designed tower on Beekman St. Developer Forest City Ratner had planned to begin construction on the tower last April. But the parking lot where the tower will rise remains untouched and work will not begin for another two months, Joyce Baumgarten, a spokesperson for Ratner told Downtown Express last week. Because of the delay, the 600-seat school, which will alleviate crowding at P.S. 234 in Tribeca, will open at the start of the 2009 school year, instead of the 2008 school year.

“It’s very, very disappointing,” said Julie Menin, chairperson of Community Board 1. “We need these schools and we need them now… A one year delay is very, very significant.”

P.S. 234 is at 120 percent capacity and growing. Next year, the school will have to close its science room to make way for a new kindergarten class.

The community won the Beekman School as part of a signed agreement with the city and developers to allow for taller luxury, residential towers on two sites in Tribeca. In exchange for allowing for taller buildings, the community was promised several amenities, including $44 million toward a new, $65 million school on the East Side of the district. The Lower Manhattan Development Corp. provided $20 million for the school.

Last February, Bloomberg threatened to cut capital funding for 21 new school construction projects if Albany did not increase its contribution to the city’s capital education coffers. The $44 million earmarked for the Beekman School was always dependant on state funding, which came up short, the city said at the time.

“We had inactivity for several months because of the mayor failing to give the go ahead on the school — or withdrawing the go ahead — when he played that game with Albany,” said Silver in a telephone interview with Downtown Express. “There was no reason to hold this school hostage and to play games with this school and unfortunately it’s going to cost us a year.”

The city agrees that the feud with Albany contributed to the delay. “Because the construction schedule was so aggressive, those months when we had to stop going forward because we simply didn’t have the money and didn’t know if we were going to have the money… contributed to the scenario where we could no longer count on a September 2008 opening,” said David Cantor, the Dept. of Education press secretary. Cantor confirmed that the school will not open until Sept. 2009.

The dispute lasted two months, and ended with Albany delivering New York City $1.8 billion in capital funds this year and authorizing a total of $11.2 billion in capital funds over the next five years.

The Beekman tower, a mixed-use residential tower, will rise where a parking lot now stands and will house an outpatient clinic for nearby New York Downtown Hospital, in addition to the school. Construction is expected to take three to four years. The 10 to 12 months of foundation work will involve pile driving, a noisy excavation process. Ratner plans to begin driving test piles later this month.

“It’s going to be loud and it’s going to be annoying for sure,” said C.B. 1 district manager Paul Goldstein. “We’re doing our best to mitigate it.”

Residents also worry that traffic along Beekman, a narrow and vital crosstown artery, might grind to a halt when the tower construction collides with an 18-month-long Beekman St. reconstruction project. Aside from being a crosstown route, Beekman has a firehouse, three parking garages and a hospital on it. “The thought of all the extra vehicles coming in — you’re bringing in metal, you’re bringing in concrete, you’re bringing in construction crews,” said Goldstein. “It just sounds like it’s going to be a nightmare.”

Goldstein says it might be worthwhile to delay the roadwork for a year or two while the foundation work on the tower gets underway.

But the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center, the agency vested with making sure Downtown construction goes smoothly, thinks otherwise. “It is counter productive to stop one project so another can go on,” said Jennifer Nelson, a Command Center spokesperson. “I’m not going to say that there may not be delays here — that’s the nature of construction. The point of the Command Center is to try to mitigate that as much as possible… that’s the whole point of us being here.”


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