Negotiations positive for possible new Peck Slip school


BY Aline Reynolds

Downtown kindergarteners might have a better shot at attending a public school in their district, if current negotiations between the U.S. Postal Service and the New York City Department of Education prove fruitful.

The U.S. Postal Service has reached an exclusive agreement with the D.O.E.’s School Construction Authority to open an elementary school at the Peck Slip Post Office in the South Street Seaport, according to the D.O.E. and Congressman Jerrold Nadler’s office. The time frame and logistics of the school’s opening have not yet been ironed out, since the agreement hasn’t yet been finalized.

But the Downtown community is already rejoicing as it impatiently awaits more Downtown elementary school seats to relieve overcrowding, avoiding the need to bus their five-year-olds out of the district.

“This is excellent news for everybody involved,” Nadler said in a statement, emphasizing the need for the school. “I hope that we can see both the school and retail post office realized as the negotiations continue.”

According to Eric Greenleaf, a P.S. 234 parent and New York University business professor, the neighborhood requires an additional 1000-to-1400 more elementary school seats by 2017 in order to prevent severe overcrowding in the neighborhood schools. School enrollments are growing so rapidly, he said, that the Peck Slip school would be completely filled on its opening day.

“I’d be thrilled if [the negotiations] moved forward as soon as possible,” said P.S. 234 parent Tricia Joyce, also a member of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s Overcrowding Task Force. “We’re already over-capacity, so it really can’t come soon enough.”

Kimberly Busi, another member of the task force and the Parent Teacher Association president of P.S. 234, has begun a letter-writing campaign requesting that the Peck Slip elementary school incubate at the Tweed Courthouse. The D.O.E.’s current plan is to designate the space to Innovate Manhattan Charter School, a move which Busi, Greenleaf and scores of other Downtown parents vehemently oppose.

“Everyone is pretty unified in the belief that we absolutely can’t give up Tweed Courthouse,” Busi said, having hand-delivered nearly 200 complaint letters to the D.O.E. on Monday. “We just want those seats kept for zoned kindergarten children.”

Busi was pleased to hear about the D.O.E.’s negotiations with the post office. The Peck Slip school alone, however, won’t resolve the overcrowding dilemma Lower Manhattan currently faces. “If we’re lucky and we get the school sited, I think we have to start immediately on [finding and securing] site number two,” she said.

Speaker Silver was instrumental in backing the S.C.A.’s acquisition of the Peck Slip site. He wrote John Potter, the U.S.P.S. postmaster general and chief operating officer in September, about the need for a 400-seat public school at the site in September. “It is very challenging for the [D.O.E.] to find a suitable site, and the Peck Slip Post Office meets its criteria,” Silver said in the letter. The D.O.E. has the capital funding lined up for the acquisition, he added, and is ready to sign off on the deal.

Silver said he is working with Nadler, State Senator Daniel Squadron, City Councilmember Margaret Chin and other elected officials to open up more schools Downtown.

Squadron echoed the need to combat school overcrowding Downtown, stating that the siting of a school at Peck Slip is “one important step to keeping our schools and our community growing and strong.”

The post office’s retail services, located on the first floor of the four-story building at One Peck Slip, will be retained on the site, according to Nadler’s office, who is in direct contact with the U.S.P.S. Storage space and other U.S.P.S. operations, however, will be relocated to another location in the neighborhood.

“Currently the U.S.P.S. needs only two of those floors, hence this is why we are consolidating and offering the extra space for sale,” explained U.S.P.S. Spokesperson Darleen Reid.

Reid said postal services would remain in the community, regardless of the outcome of the bid process for the space it intends to sell to the D.O.E. “We are not taking away service to the community at this time,” she said. “We are simply looking into the option of streamlining operations into a smaller space.”

She said that the U.S.P.S. would be finalizing negotiations for the Peck Slip space sometime in January.