Wednesday, November 15, 2006

DOE, Ratner agree on new school, “but it’s really not enough”

An influx of 13,500 new residents at the Atlantic Yards full buildout in 2016 would tax the capacity of local schools, and several people, including Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and Mary-Powel Thomas, president of District 15 Community Education Council, have called for a new school to be included in the project.

And, according to the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) released today, there's a plan:
At the request of the New York City Department of Education (DOE), the project sponsors would convey or lease to DOE space within one of the Phase II development sites (Buildings 5 through 15) for the construction and operation of an approximately 100,000-gross-square-foot (gsf) elementary and intermediate school. Building 5 has been identified as a likely location for the school.

(Building 5 would be east of Sixth Avenue below Atlantic Avenue. The school would be part of the DOE's capital plan, which means the city would pay for it. That's typical, though sometimes developers will build a school as part of a larger negotiation.)

Thomas offered partial praise. “I’m very glad they listened enough to put a school in the project, but I think it’s really not enough,” she told me. “The shortfall they predict is 1372 seats. Even after that school is built, you’ve still got 1100 elementary school students in Atlantic Yards with nowhere to go to school. That to me is a real problem.”

While the Final EIS suggests that students could be bused to other schools, she said, “Busing is a terrible idea at elementary school. Middle school, certainly. DOE’s big initiative is to get all children to go to their zoned elementary school. So why would they go in and allow a situation to be created where kids by definition would have to be bused away from their neighborhood?”

Who's counting?

Unlike the researchers on the EIS, Thomas actually talked to the principals of area schools to try to assess overcrowding. Her comments on the Draft EIS:
My research shows that, although there are some available seats in some District 13 schools (and some in one District 15 school, as described in my oral testimony), there are not enough to absorb an appreciable share of the thousands of additional students that would live in Atlantic Yards.

In my testimony last fall, I urged the Development Commission to interview the principals of the nearby schools to find out what their true capacity was. This was obviously not done. I STRONGLY urge the Commission to do this research for all schools in the study area, rather than relying on two-year-old numbers that treat children like sardines.

The ESDC responded, basically, that it didn't have to go beyond the letter of the law:
As per CEQR Technical Manual methodology, the DEIS, utilized the best and most recent data developed by both DCP and the New York City Department of Education (DOE).

“They punted,” Thomas said. “They said, ‘We’re just using what’s on the DOE web site, and that’s all we have to do, so that’s what we’re going to do,’ which I guess they’re in their rights to do. But as president of one of the Community Education Councils that contains part of the site, it’s my duty to point out that those methods don’t yield accurate results.”


What would Thomas recommend? Larger schools, and more of them. The number proposed for the school at Building 5--630 kids—“is not very many. We have elementary schools with 1000 kids.”

“I’m still not happy with the Building 5 location,” she added. “It’s right next to the arena and right off Atlantic Avenue. I think Buildings 12 and 13 would be the best locations. They’re the farthest away from the hustle and bustle.”

How many kids at AY?

The Boerum Hill Association criticized the ESDC’s framework, saying:
The analysis seems to account for 0.37 elementary school children per household. Perhaps this is a New York City statistic. The number of children per unit in a project of this size and interest and location may be greater and comparison with other projects should be generated.

The ESDC responded that it was following the manual:
The number and type of students (elementary, intermediate, or high school) generated by the proposed project was calculated based on ratios provided in Table 3C-2 of the CEQR Technical Manual. Factors contributing to student ratios include the borough in which the project site is located and the anticipated income level of the residential units included in the proposed project (low, low-mod, mod-high, and high).

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