Skip to main content

A new middle school at B15? There's significant support, but also questions about location, function (updated with CEC 13 letter citing overstated capacity)

Updated of 7/1 coverage 7/2 with mention of CEC 13 letter.

The school, once planned for B5, is now planned for B15
There was vocal support at a public hearing that the school planned for the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park B15 building be a middle school rather than, as planned, a flexible, mixed elementary/intermediate school.

While such advocates acknowledged the location just east of Sixth Avenue between Dean and Pacific streets was imperfect, they suggested the urgency of a middle school in District 13 trumped such concerns.

So far, several elected officials, Community Board 8, Community Education Council 13 (CEC 13) , and the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council (PHNDC) support such a middle school at B15. But it doesn't mean that, as a tweet from Sen. Jesse Hamilton indicated, "#ProspectHeights is unified behind a new middle school at #AtlanticYards."

Some questions

In fact, those closest to the project, the Dean Street Block Association (DSBA)--which withdrew from PHNDC after the latter signed a settlement agreement regarding the project timetable and oversight--offered a more nuanced statement, questioning the location opposite the arena and police/fire stations, and requesting that the Department of Education better assess local needs.

DSBA seeeks "an all-inclusive plan to avoid overcrowding, reduce the risk our elementary students will have to travel distances to get to school, and improve middle school options."

Regina Cahill, president of the North Flatbush Business Improvement District, also tweeted her concerns about the location--but was told her suggested alternative (the B5 site) would be built too late.

While Community Board 2 just touches Prospect Heights, its constituents--update: people in the northern half of the project site, at least 7 towers, will be in CB 2--will be using the school. CB 2 questioned the location, suggesting the school be moved to the southeast block of the project, in a building contemporaneous with B15.

CB 2 said "the decision on whether the school be designed for elementary or middle school students, or both, should be deferred in order to respond to the needs at the time the school opens." (That may be less efficient, however.)

What does developer want?

Three (now-empty) houses will be demolished for the school
Developer Greenland Forest City Partners has stayed out of the public discussion, but I'd guess they favor the elementary/intermediate school as proposed, which could be a good selling point to entice families to move into the project.

As I've noted, the choice of a school for B15 takes the focus off the fact that it's a 100% market-rate tower built at 27 stories next to four-story apartment buildings (on Dean Street), on a site assembled after eminent domain was used to acquire property from homeowners.

The case for a middle school

The case for a middle school was suggested in a series of tweets yesterday from CEC 13:
1/ The crisis of D13 middle school quality is in the here and now
2/ one building can not address capacity needs of all DoBro & AY/PP
3/ Key ? from @PS9BklynPTO, 11, 20 fams: "where do we go for middle?
4/ if we just add elem capacity we only make middle school prob worse
5/ new @psms282 review hits key points …
6/ ... Solid elems like 282 must pull from across Bk to fill seats
7/ ... While D13 middles "struggle... to find academic footing"
8/ w notable exceptions solid d13 elems must fill seats w out-of dist
9/ in lg part because d13 parents fear lack of middle school choices
10/ so question is where are the quality d13 middle school seats?
Note that they're not arguing that District 13 itself lacks middle school seats, just "quality" ones, and (presumably) near Prospect Heights, where parents have been advocating for seats. It's a legitimate policy argument.

But it does not necessarily reflect the rationale for the school in Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, which, according to the Second Amended Memorandum of Environmental Commitments, is "mitigation for the projected significant adverse impact to the supply of elementary and intermediate school seats" caused by the construction of project apartments.

The larger context, as CB 2 points out, is the lack of new schools commensurate with new construction, with no response from school officials to the school seats required by construction of more than 5,000 new apartments built since Downtown Brooklyn was rezoned in 2004.

Update: CEC 13 cites misleading statistics

According to the CEC letter (bottom):
Although the site plan does not indicate the projected growth of intermediate school population, the 2014 Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Pacific Park project discloses that the project “would result in a significant adverse impact to intermediate schools.” Please note that the data for two of the three intermediate schools presented in the 2014 FEIS presents a potentially misleading picture of middle school seats actually available to area students. I.S. 571 was closed in 2013. I.S. 340, despite being located within the confines of District 13, is a District 17 middle school, which does not provide seats to District 13 middle school students. Thus, the FEIS overstates intermediate school capacity in Sub-District 1 of District 13 by at least 550 seats.
....Moreover, we believe there is a least as much capacity to accommodate the new elementary school students that might otherwise be accommodated within the proposed B15 site instead within at schools such as – especially - PS 9, along with PS 282, PS 133, PS 20, and PS 11, especially when consideration is made to the significant percentage of out-of-district 13 students some of these schools presently serve. Crucially we believe PS 9, just one block away, should be the zoned school for new residents in the Atlantic Yards / Pacific Park, and all of the western portion of Prospect Heights between Atlantic Avenue and Flatbush Avenue.
(Emphasis in original)

It's surely dismaying that official documents are not accurate, which makes it difficult to have an informed discussion.

The PHNDC letter

Here's the summary from PHDNC, reflecting the case many are making, headlined "PHNDC calls for dedicated middle school at Atlantic Yards site":
On May 15, 2015, the New York City School Construction Authority [SCA] issued a notice for the development of a 616-seat primary and intermediate school to be housed in building B15 at the Atlantic Yards site. The building is slated to begin construction in July of 2016.
Citing the longstanding need for a middle school to serve students from Prospect Heights and its environs, in comments to the notice submitted to the SCA today, PHNDC called for the proposed facility to instead be a dedicated middle school for District 13 students. "The SCA and DOE should issue direction that the developer design the facility as a dedicated middle school as soon as possible so to take advantage of these opportunities without risking its projected September 2018 opening," wrote PHNDC Chair Gib Veconi. In separate comments submitted to SCA, Community Education Council 13 and Community Board 8 also called for the facility to be dedicated as a middle school.
PHNDC further noted the challenges of siting a school close to an arena, a police station, and a fire house. Mr. Veconi wrote, "Therefore, it will be incumbent upon City agencies—including DOE, DOT, NYPD, and the Office of Film, Theater and Broadcast—to coordinate efforts that ensure the safety of students entering and leaving the school is maintained, and disruptions to the neighboring residents are minimized. The SCA and the DOE must explain how that coordination will be accomplished, and what protocols will be established, before plans for the school are approved."
Finally, PHNDC called on the SCA and Department of Education to commit to a public review process for the school's design that will include community input.
According to the full PHNDC comments (also bottom), the primary schools near Atlantic Yards "have seen dramatic improvement" but parents have few options, with few open seats in "[h]igh-performing middle schools... configured for grades K-8."

PHNDC noted that there is more potential capacity for elementary school seats at places like PS 9, built as a primary school but now also housing an intermediate charter school.

PHDNC said school officials "must assess whether the school will represent an impact to the [nearby] Dean Playground, and develop a plan to mitigate the impact." It did not mention the potential impact of the construction of the B1 office tower over the arena plaza, which would temporarily shift an area entrance to the the east side of the arena.

PHNDC suggested that school officials "SCA present to the community and its elected representatives a near-term plan for addressing capacity issues associated with increased residential development in downtown Brooklyn and at the Atlantic Yards site," given that the 616 seats planned are less than a third of increased need projected in Atlantic Yards project documents, not to mention "thousands of apartments recently completed, in progress, or planned for downtown Brooklyn."

Community Board 2 letter

A letter (in full below) from the executive committee of CB 2 similarly noted that there would be nearly three times the need from Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park residents itself.

CB 2 noted that the SCA did not consider an alternative site, but "building B13, on Block 1129 (bounded by Vanderbilt Avenue, Dean Street, Carlton Avenue and Pacific Street), has the same construction timetable as B15 but is further from the arena, the major thoroughfares, and the public safety facilities. Community Board 2 encourages the SCA to consider this building as an alternative site."

Regarding the focus of the school, CB 2 said the plan should be decision should be deferred, and " a range of concurrent solutions should be considered and implemented by the Department of Education and the SCA. These include strategies to make the existing CSD13 intermediate schools more attractive to parents and exploration of a more porous boundary between districts 13 and 15."

Dean Street Block Association

DSBA (letter in full below) calls the "the new school... scaled insufficiently to meet community needs" and the location "a poorer choice than most." Though background conditions changed, with more of a capacity shortfall, there was no increase in the requirement for the developer, which has long been required to provide 100,000 square feet of space for a school.

"In a departure from what is detailed in the Project agreements, it is likely to be delivered 5 buildings (1,500 units) after the significant adverse impact emerges," wrote the DSBA. "Unique conditions at the site will deliver poorer and potentially less healthy classrooms, less safe pedestrian access, poorer open space, and unique community impacts including to other community facilities than other potential options."

"Ideally, a site would be selected in the Project looking at a range of variables including the timing the school can be opened relative to the emergence of the significant adverse impact, the quality of its potential classrooms and open space, proximity to transit, pedestrian safety, drop-off strategies, and impact on its surroundings," according to the letter.

"Studies, including for traffic and pedestrians, could be done across a range of options to help select the best location. With the exception of proximity to transit, B15 falls short of most other building site options east of 6th Avenue depending on the variable assessed," states the letter, which notes, among other things, the impact of arena operations and the planned B1 tower.

"Because the proposed 616 seat school fails to meaningfully absorb the number of students being introduced into District 13 schools," states the DSBA letter, "two problems are now being unacceptably pitted against each other: the priority of ensuring elementary students don’t travel distances to go to school and. the need the District 13 CEC has identified for 'quality' middle school options in the district."


Popular posts from this blog

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

At 550 Vanderbilt, big chunk of apartments pitched to Chinese buyers as "international units"

One key to sales at the 550 Vanderbilt condo is the connection to China, thanks to Shanghai-based developer Greenland Holdings.

It's the parent of Greenland USA, which as part of Greenland Forest City Partners owns 70% of Pacific Park (except 461 Dean and the arena).

And sales in China may help explain how the developer was able to claim early momentum.
"Since 550 Vanderbilt launched pre-sales in June [2015], more than 80 residences have gone into contract, representing over 30% of the building’s 278 total residences," the developer said in a 9/25/15 press release announcing the opening of a sales gallery in Brooklyn. "The strong response from the marketplace indicates the high level of demand for well-designed new luxury homes in Brooklyn..."

Maybe. Or maybe it just meant a decent initial pipeline to Chinese buyers.

As lawyer Jay Neveloff, who represents Forest City, told the Real Deal in 2015, a project involving a Chinese firm "creates a huge market for…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…