N.Y.U. will provide school space…just no time soon

By Heather Murray

New York University does not have any space available right now for a new public school in Community Board 2 that would help alleviate current overcrowding, an N.Y.U. representative said this week.

C.B. 2’s Social Services and Education Committee passed a resolution at its Dec. 16 meeting requesting that N.Y.U. work with the School Construction Authority to create a plan that would provide space for a public school in the near future, perhaps through leasing or other measures.

C.B. 2’s request came after learning at a May rally on school overcrowding that the university was committed to providing space for a school as part of N.Y.U. Plans 2031, its 25-year growth plan.

Alicia Hurley, N.Y.U. vice president for government and community engagement, said that the C.B. 2 resolution was a response to the university’s request that the community confirm its interest in N.Y.U. providing public school space in its growth plan. The plan seeks to locate 6 million square feet of academic and housing space for the university.

Hurley said there was concern that some neighbors actually opposed the idea of siting a school on the university’s superblocks.

Hurley said that although the university has no current space available for a school, it is committed to identifying space in the future. But, she added, “It will be up to the Department of Education and the School Construction Authority to build the school. It has to be a priority, but it is really up to the S.C.A. and D.O.E. to make it a priority.”

Hurley said that N.Y.U. has been clear from its first announcement about providing space for a school that it planned to do so in conjunction with the future development of the two N.Y.U.-owned superblocks south of Washington Square.

“We’re still working on where it might best fit,” she said.

The resolution by C.B. 2’s Social Services and Education Committee, however, stresses not only that N.Y.U. designate a site for the school, but that the school happen — quickly. Plans for schools on Pier 40 and at 75 Morton St. have encountered serious stumbling blocks, while a new school at the Foundling Hospital building in Chelsea might be as much as five years away, according to the resolution.

“A growing awareness of the many hurdles and challenges that realistically face each of these school sites means that they will not be completed and operable for many years,” the resolution states. Meanwhile, the committee’s statement points out, “N.Y.U.’s announcement of its plan to develop a school is still only a statement of intention. No timeline, site or plan has been determined.” The resolution “stresses the urgency of [N.Y.U.] working with the School Construction Authority to devise a plan that could be accomplished quickly, including considering short-term solutions, such as leasing or other stopgap measures.”

Hurley said she understands that “everyone always wants immediate solutions,” but that the school was slated as part of a longer-term solution.

She stressed, “first and foremost, that it must be a public school” and that N.Y.U. would not consider creating a prep school in the vein of Columbia University’s Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School.

C.B. 2 Chairperson Brad Hoylman expects that the university’s growth plan will mean there will be “even more families working in our neighborhoods and more kids attending our schools.

“I’m very pleased that they are open to the community’s requests,” Hoylman said. He said it would be ideal if “N.Y.U. could launch something in the near term, but we’re also realistic in understanding that we don’t know their situation. The need is urgent now… N.Y.U. is another option that we need to explore.”

The community was disappointed during the summer when the Empire State Development Corporation — the agency that handles state-owned property — took 75 Morton St. off the market. They were hoping D.O.E. would purchase the building to convert it into a middle school.

Keen Berger, chairperson of the School Services and Education Committee, said she still has hopes for the Morton St. building.

“There are some offices there, but it’s two-thirds empty,” she said. “Maybe the city could lease a couple of floors and turn it into a middle school?”

Former local City Councilmember Carol Greitzer suggested that the empty buildings cropping up in the city as the recession deepens be considered for use as temporary school sites.

“Someone with some imagination could turn some of those buildings into temporary schools, at least until they find a site for a regular one,” she said.

Other possible school space options Berger mentioned included Pier 40, at W. Houston St., and a former private preschool located on W. 14th St.

Greitzer said she was happy to hear that N.Y.U. would provide space for a school, but that she didn’t consider it “a big, magnanimous gesture.”

She recalls an agreement the university made with the community in the 1960s to build an experimental school for Lower East Side and Village children. The Coles Sports Center got built on Mercer St. instead, Greitzer said.

The Education Department’s long-term solution for school overcrowding in C.B. 2 is a new school slated to be built at the Foundling Hospital, one of two it plans to open in the Chelsea/Hell’s Kitchen area in the fall of 2015. The new school, at Sixth Ave. and 17th St., will add an estimated 563 seats to School District 2’s capacity.

Berger said, “Foundling is great, but the need is now. A whole crop of children will have graduated by the time the Foundling school opens.”

Borough President Scott Stringer’s report on school overcrowding, “Crowded Out,” issued in April, said that 100 percent of Greenwich Village and Soho elementary and middle school buildings were overcapacity and that there were 263 fewer seats than there were students in these areas.

Hoylman and Berger both expressed concern that the worsening economy would drive many private-school parents to register their children in public school this year, potentially stretching class sizes even further.

“If only the D.O.E. would plan prospectively,” Berger said wistfully.

A D.O.E. spokesperson could not be reached by deadline for comment.