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School at B15 site approved by City Council (no, not part of CBA); unclear when decision made re K-8 vs. middle-school

In a mostly routine vote, the New York City Council yesterday approved siting for a 616-seat school in the tower planned for the B15 site of the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project, east of Sixth Avenue between Dean and Pacific streets.

There was no mention of the concerted push to make the school a middle-school rather than, as tentatively planned, a school for both elementary and middle-school students. Nor was there mention of the significant concern expressed about the location across the street from the Barclays Center and near police and fire stations.

At the Council's Stated Meeting, this item was packaged in a vote on numerous measures, and passed with 44 yes votes and one abstention.

The abstainer was Brooklyn Council Member Inez Barron, who succeeded her husband Charles Barron as the resident gadfly. According to the video of the meeting (linked here), beginning at about 38:50, Barron explained her vote, stating, "It's located in Atlantic Yards, that developer has a history, has demonstrated that promises have not been met. There's no oversight by the SCA [School Construction Authority]."

That's comment about oversight wasn't quite true. Developer Greenland Forest City Partners, the joint venture including Forest City Ratner (the developer Barron referenced), will build the core and shell of the 100,000 square-foot school. The SCA can then fit out the building itself, or contract with the developer, and presumably have oversight. But Barron may have been referring to the fact that the SCA cannot guarantee the timetable of the building.

Cumbo's response

From the CBA
A bit later, Council Member Laurie Cumbo, in whose district the school will be (and who supports a middle-school), diplomatically thanked Barron for bringing up her concerns, saying the vote was an opportunity to get a badly needed school within the district.

"This came as part of the Community Benefits Agreement [CBA]," Cumbo said, incorrectly, adding, "I will certainly take Council Member Barron's concerns into consideration... to make sure that all children, and the diversity of this district, is represented." 

Actually, the school is a state-required mitigation (see the Second Amended Memorandum of Environmental Commitments, p. 2) for the increase in population caused by the project, and the square footage is extra, on top of what the developer is allowed.

By contrast, the CBA, signed by Forest City Ratner with selected community partners, made extravagant but vague promises/projections, not fulfilled, for a School for Construction Management and Trades, three charter schools (focusing on construction, sports, and music/film), and a "new vision school" focusing on information technology.

A public discussion: what gets built

At the Community Update meeting Wednesday night regarding Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park issues, Gib Veconi, a prominent middle-school advocate, asked at what point was the decision made to build the school as K-8 or a middle school.
"The way I've had it explained is they do build it as K-8," stated Forest City's Ashley Cotton.

The Department of Education, Veconi said, will try to delay its decision, "but they do build dedicated middle-schools," with larger gyms and bathrooms. "At what point do your plans for that space become final?" (Actually, Community Board 2 has suggested that the decision be delayed until the need is assessed closer to opening.)

"The bathrooms are bathrooms," with pipes and water connections, responded Greenland's Scott Solish. "What toilets can be installed I think can be done relatively late."

"We don't pick the toilets," Cotton continued. "We do core and shell." If the SCA wants the developer to build out the school, "we'd create a business deal." That's what happened at 8 Spruce Street, the Frank Gehry-designed tower in Lower Manhattan built by Forest City.

Location issues

Dean Street resident Peter Krashes said his block association, "and this captures the consensus near project site... [is that] the B15 location may be the worst location for a school."

Beyond the potential hazards nearby, Krashes suggested the building would arrive too late to mitigate the impact of the first towers. According to his research, Krashes said, there are 2,310 existing elementary school seats, with 2,236 filled right now. (Veconi, behind him, muttered that the numbers were wrong.)

"The mitigation the state requires suggests that the timing would have been most apt in 550 Vanderbilt," Krashes said, referring to the condo building at the southeast corner of the site... B15 is five-six buildings down the pike... B15 is the only building without [ground-level] open space... and people know what Sixth Ave is like... from a location point of view, whether it's timing, or quality of classrooms and access to school... you could do better."

Flatbush Avenue resident Regina Cahill, president of the North Flatbush Avenue Business Improvement District, agreed that the site was "not the best" and said the building should be designed "so there is a plaza space to spill out to.. if it becomes a middle school... there needs to be enough space exterior to the building to allow for dismissal."

Cahill added that teachers cannot afford to live nearby, and may need free parking.

Krashes raised the question of the lack of ground-level open space on recess, suggesting students would not easily get to the top of a 27-story building.

"People are thinking about all these issues," responded Forest City executive Jane Marshall..

Cotton said the 8 Spruce building has a terrace on the fifth or sixth floor. "These are the kind of designs SCA has become quite pro at."

"There needs to be some kind of vision to the site," Cahill responded.

"We've hired [architect] Jonathan Marvel, he's doing six projects in Brooklyn," Cotton responded.

"Well, they [the SCA representative] were shocked when we described the intersection," Cahill countered.


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