Don’t sacrifice rec center for desperately-needed school

By Angela Benfield

As the parent of a fifth grader at P.S. 89 and an eighth grader at I.S. 89, I attended a meeting of the Youth and Education and Battery Park City Committees of Community Board 1 in the auditorium of the school last month. The purpose was to gage support for the idea of a P.S. 89 annex to be built in the Community Center being planned for the new apartment building on Warren St. and North End Ave.

But, as parents started to address the members of both committees, the real issue became apparent: P.S. 89 is becoming increasingly overcrowded and families are desperate to find any space to accommodate the growing population.

Julie Menin, community board chairperson, repeatedly announced that they are fully aware of the situation and this meeting was solely to gain information on the idea of an annex. She requested that comments be kept to that subject only.

Her plea went unheard. One after another, upset parents spoke in anger about the problems plaguing the future of the school. Although Menin’s frustration with recurring comments on the overcrowding was obvious, parents could not pass up the opportunity to voice their outrage.

Buildings have been going up like weeds in Battery Park City with apartments marketed and sold primarily to families based on the idea of a great community and wonderful, high achieving schools. Perhaps the developers were counting on these children to go to private school (some of whom undoubtedly will) or be home-schooled (unlikely).

P.S. 89 was constructed to house three classes for each grade. It currently has four kindergarten and first-grade classes, but only two fourth grades, both of which are extremely crowded. This means that rooms originally intended for enrichment programs — such as art, music, and science — are in jeopardy of being turned into classrooms.

The process has already begun. At the beginning of this school year, the art room was relocated to the staff lounge. The next room slated to go is the computer room. Since the school is moving towards wireless laptops, it’s not as serious a loss as it could be, but why does it have to come to this? And as Downtown Express reported in December, P.S. 89 has the third-most-crowded fourth-grade class in New York City.

How can this happen in a community with one of the highest average incomes in the world, not to mention one that has been part of a well-documented and critically-acclaimed planning process for decades? It happened because schools don’t make money — they cost money. Greed has overrun the long-term vision of Lower Manhattan, and it’s the children who are going to suffer.

Desperate parents gave suggestions, ranging from the innovative to the simply outrageous. One idea was for the school building to be reconstructed to expand over the current schoolyard. The roof could be used as the new playground. Another was to rent space in the apartment building located above the school. Yet another idea was to build upwards on top of the roof.

Constructing a new school at Site 2B between First and Second Place might be the answer to our prayers. Although Menin assured parents that fighting for an annex would not hinder the battle for a school at that site, I do not believe that the city Dept. of Education will approve two school sites for one community when there is a city-wide overcrowding problem.

After about two hours, a vote was taken by a show of hands. Yes, parents are interested in pursuing the idea of a P.S. 89 annex. But in their desperation, have parents really considered if a school annex is the best option? When faced with the possibility of having over 30 children in one class, are parents actually going to rule out any possibility of relief?

Even if we get the annex, we are losing a long-awaited Community Center which is supposed to be a space for residents of all ages. A place where infants and toddlers can play in the cold weather months — besides the World Financial Center, which has sadly become, by default, the indoor “playground” in the neighborhood. A place where the elderly can take swimming or art classes. A place where teenagers can hang out. This would be a wonderful addition to our community. We shouldn’t have to sacrifice it.

All in all, there has been a total lack of foresight on the part of the Battery Park City Authority and the people who rent and own here are paying for it. The bottom line is we need a new school in Battery Park City and we need it yesterday. The construction of residential buildings should immediately be put on hold until plans for a new school are written in stone, and reinforced with cement.

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