Mixed Use

By Patrick Hedlund

Chelsea/Village school?

With the news last week that Chelsea’s largest high school, the Bayard Rustin Educational Complex, will be phased out of the system, a group of local advocates is exploring the possibility of establishing a neighborhood school in the building to deal with overcrowding.

The W. 18th St. building between Eighth and Ninth Aves. that currently houses BREC — which is made up of four individual schools — and two smaller high schools can accommodate roughly 3,000 students.

The Department of Education announced that it plans to phase out the 1,500-student school by not accepting ninth-graders next year and graduating all the rest of its students by 2012.

One additional high school will open in the building next year serving ninth-grade students, eventually growing to serve grades nine through 12 by 2013. An announcement will be made later this month or early next month regarding the specifics of the new school, and D.O.E. spokesperson Melody Meyer said its enrollment will be open to students citywide. Ultimately, the building will house five to six small schools after the Bayard Rustin phase-out is completed.

But with the district’s well-documented overcrowding situation, some have said that local students should be given the first option. Fulton Houses tenant advocate and Community Board 4 member Miguel Acevedo said he reached out to Borough President Scott Stringer’s Office — which issued two detailed reports on school overcrowding last year — as well as to Community Board 2

Chairperson Brad Hoylman and the organization Class Size Matters with the proposal.

Introducing a new high school into the building, which has been tried multiple times in the past, is “not dealing with the problem we’re having in [the district],” Acevedo added, since students from outside the area will eventually end up attending the new high school. BREC’s current high schools are made up of students from around the city, including many from Upper Manhattan and the Bronx.

Hoylman called it an “intriguing possibility” and said he’s already been speaking with local parents about the idea.

“I think it’s important the community continue to brainstorm on the possibility of another site,” Hoylman said, also noting the ongoing efforts to bring a school to 75 Morton St. in the West Village.

Meyer said the BREC building would eventually offer middle-school seats to serve students within School District 2, which covers a large swath of the West Side, but that it will depend on “if we see a middle-school proposal that fits the needs of this building and this community.”

Q4 horror show

Downtown had a nearly 10 percent vacancy rate inside its major office buildings, keeping pace with the citywide rate that reached double digits for the first time in almost five years.

According to a report issued by Jones Lang LaSalle this week, overall vacancy Downtown went up 13.1 percent over the past quarter, rising to 9.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008, from 8.6 percent in the third quarter. Class B office space took the biggest shot, with vacancy rates in those buildings increasing 24 percent, to 13.2 percent from 10.6 percent quarter over quarter. Lower Manhattan’s trophy buildings fared better, however, with Class A vacant space climbing only 3.4 percent during the same time period, from 7.4 percent to 7.7.

Lower Manhattan and Downtown also weathered a large drop in average asking rental rates, slipping more than 6 percent. Class B rents fell by more than 9 percent, from $45.94 per square foot to $41.73 per square foot; while Class A rents decreased more than 3 percent, from $54.61 per square foot to $52.95 per square foot.

The Midtown South area — covering 30th St. to Canal St. from river to river — saw the smallest decrease in average asking rents, falling less than 1 percent over the past quarter, from $55.47 per square foot to $55.19 per square foot. Class A rates slipped slightly more than 1 percent, dropping from $65.91 per square foot to $65.15 per square foot.

Overall asking rents across Manhattan fell 4 percent quarter over quarter, dropping to $70.19 per square foot from $73.14 per square foot.

Midtown, which saw the greatest jump in available space over the past quarter, showed an 18.2 percent increase in its overall vacancy rate, rising to 10.8 percent from 9.1 percent quarter over quarter. Over all, Manhattan posted a more than 43 percent spike in vacancy rates over the past quarter.

“Demand for office space has slowed throughout Manhattan as businesses continue to retrench and announce cutbacks,” said James Delmonte, vice president and director of research for Jones Lang LaSalle. “In the final quarter of the year, the city’s overall vacancy rate breached the 10 percent mark for all property types for the first time since the first quarter of 2004.”