Peck Slip school to expand by 180 seats

BY ALINE REYNOLDS  |  Downtown educators and parents received good news on Tuesday pertaining to the overcrowding crisis in their neighborhood schools.

Department of Education Spokesperson Frank Thomas announced by e-mail an amendment to the department’s 2010-14 capital plan that allocates $9 million in unused capital funds toward the forthcoming elementary school sited for One Peck Slip.

The money will go toward building two additional floors, amounting to approximately 20,000 extra square feet of space in the Peck Slip building, enabling an additional 180 seats for the K-5 school.

The school will now house 656 seats — up from the previously slated count of 476 seats — as well as a gymnasium, according to the D.O.E. The school will incubate at the Tweed Courthouse in September 2012 and move into the Peck Slip building in September 2015, as previously planned.

“Today’s amendment to our capital construction plan is part of our ongoing commitment to provide high-quality facilities to our students,” said Thomas. The added space, he said, will “create additional cost-effective new seats for a community with increasing demand.”

“These are some of the least expensive seats in the city, since they’re paid for by shifting funds within the existing capital plan and don’t require additional funding,” Thomas added.

The spokesperson also noted that the expansion requires minimal change to the School Construction Authority’s original plan for One Peck Slip.

“Putting on additional two stories to the building is not an intensive change to the architecture and resources,” explained Thomas.

In a press release also announcing the news, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, founder and leader of the Downtown Schools Overcrowding Task Force, said, “I am thrilled that the parents of Lower Manhattan will have this expanded, state-of-the-art new school.”

Silver continued, “I have been advocating tirelessly for more classroom seats to serve our growing population Downtown, and this expansion of the Peck Slip site is a huge win for our community and for our Lower Manhattan children. I want to thank Chancellor Walcott for his leadership in expanding this school.”

The expansion will allow the future school to have two extra classrooms per grade, according to Silver’s office.

Silver and the other stakeholders now await the news of the U.S. Postal Service’s negotiations with the D.O.E. concerning the 2,000 square feet the post office now occupies at One Peck Slip — in hopes that an anticipated vacancy will enable even more space for additional classroom seats.

Thomas indeed acknowledged this in his written announcement. Questioned about the potential use of this space were it to indeed be occupied by the D.O.E., Thomas replied, “We haven’t addressed what the use would be until the post office has decided what to do with the space.”

Regardless of the space still in question, however, Downtown stakeholders said they are very pleased about the proposed expansion of the school.

Community Board 1 Chair Julie Menin called the news an “enormous victory” for Downtown.

“I’m very pleased the D.O.E. listened to the community concerns that we have raised about the lack of school seats due to the large residential influx,” said Menin. “This will certainly be a very important way to address that shortage.”

State Senator Daniel Squadron also deems the development “an important victory for Lower Manhattan.”

“The D.O.E. deserves credit for being responsive to the needs of our growing, vibrant community,” said the Senator.

In the midst of the D.O.E.’s rezoning endeavor to accommodate the new elementary school, Squadron continued, “a larger Peck Slip school should provide new flexibility and options — moving us toward a conclusion that works better for all schools, current and future. I look forward to continuing to work with D.O.E., Speaker Silver, Councilmember Chin, and the community to prevent overcrowding and ensure an overall schools plan that best serves kids.”