Nine years later, the search is still on


On June 19, 2001, in an article entitled “Downtown leaders huddle about school-space squeeze,” Downtown Express reporter Jennifer Jensen described the efforts of local officials to answer the growing concern of Downtown parents about over-enrollment in the area’s public schools. Exactly nine years later, parents face the same worries given an influx of new families to the area. Only now, their concerns are far more extreme.

In last week’s Downtown Express, Michael Mandelkern documented the pressing problem of overcrowding in Downtown schools, describing the plight of parents still uncertain “whether their kids will graduate with P.S. 234’s class of 2016 or attend a different elementary school.” The article, “As school year ends, overcrowding still an issue,” states 14 children remain on the waitlist for P.S. 234. Assigned alternate schools due to the sheer number of kindergarten-aged children zoned for P.S. 234, these kids may remain in wait-list limbo until October, hoping to snag a coveted spot long after the school year begins.

Back in June 2001, this overcrowding trouble had just begun to brew. Jensen reported that Carl Wiesbrod, then president of the Alliance for Downtown, administrators from P.S. 234 and P.S. 89, and Community Board 1 leaders met for “a preliminary discussion on ways to address Lower Manhattan’s growing school-age population.” Enrollment at P.S. 234 for the following year exceeded the building’s capacity by 125 students, and Weisbrod feared overcrowding could tarnish the reputation of the lauded schools in the area, repelling potential residents.

“‘High-quality schools are a factor that brings high-end workers Downtown, and these high-end workers keep our businesses competitive,’” he told Jensen. He accordingly supported a school on the east side of Lower Manhattan, hoping to alleviate his prized schools from over-enrollment in the future, especially given new residential buildings in that area. Others, including Paul Hovitz, head of C.B. 1’s school space committee, recommended the board seek spaces on the Upper East Side.

Talk of a need for new schools has not slowed nearly a decade later, as Mandelkern reported last week the overcrowding problem has grown exponentially. Eric Greenleaf, an NYU professor who studies population growth within Community District 1, estimated that Lower Manhattan’s schools are 1000-1400 classroom seats short of the needed number, and said, “‘The only solution is to build two more elementary schools.’” Kevin Doherty, first vice president of the PTA at P.S. 234, believes northwestern Tribeca is in need of a new school. The School Construction Authority, an independent organization under the Department of Education, and a host of local officials, have advocated for the sale of the Peck Slip Post Office to the Department of Education to make more room for students. Mandelkern reported that New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver hopes to convince the federal government to sell the building, and Council Member Margaret Chin called the endeavor “‘a great possibility.” Chin added that “the search is on” for a new school to relieve overcrowding.

Actually, as Jensen’s article testifies, the search was on nine years ago.

— compiled by Joseph Rearick