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Dean Street neighbors balk at new middle school using Dean Playground, exiting on Dean

664 Pacific, with school in lower section;
"play yard" should be on fourth floor
The 664 Pacific tower, a 27-story luxury rental building with a school at its base just east of the arena block, is on hold for now as the developers and the owners of an adjacent building argue over the appropriate protections for that building during construction.

Another dispute is simmering, derived from the different interests of school advocates and residents of Dean Street, which is adjacent to the tower's southern flank. (The other borders are Pacific Street at the north, and Sixth Avenue at the west.)

During a design charrette for the school in April, as described on the M.S. OneBrooklyn web site, stakeholders "felt it was desirable to make a connection with the Dean Playground through DOE [Department of Education] and NYC Parks. Can it extend outdoor space for school activities?"

That goal is not surprising, given that, while the school would have small amounts of outdoor space on the fourth floor and at ground level, the tower is the only Pacific Park Brooklyn building east of the arena block without landscaped open space. Note the stylized rendering below, via Marvel Architects, designers of 664 Pacific (aka B15).

Neighbors alarmed

But residents of Dean Street, who note the 1.3-acre Dean Playground is already heavily used--and suffers improper incursions by Pacific Park construction workers and Barclays Center staffers--are alarmed.

"We have a concern that it will be usurped, or taken over," noted the Dean Street Block Association's Elaine Weinstein at a 10/17/16 meeting of the group, which attracted a diverse group of some 55 people. People at the meeting, as described below, also reprised general dismay at the location of the school, which is very near both a police and fire station, as well as the arena.

Map via Marvel Architects shows proximity of Dean Playground southeast of  664 Pacific residential tower. Open space in Pacific Park Brooklyn residential towers is more extensive than portrayed, but most will arrive after school opens.
The Parks Department's Marty Maher, Chief of Staff to the Brooklyn Borough Commissioner, seemed reassuring.

"We have jointly operated playgrounds immediately adjacent" to schools, he said. In this case, the department could, in response to a permit request, let the school use it for an event, "but on a regular basis, we don't have the ability or desire to let them use it."

What's the solution

Atlantic Yards Final Supplemental Environmental Impact
Statement indicates Dean Playground has Heavy use.
Given an expected 600 students, "you know Dean Street is going to be overrun," one participant said. "What can be done to give them open space?"

Maher said that neighbors should talk to the Department of City Planning, the Department of Education, and the Mayor's Community Assistance Unit. (Representatives of the latter two agencies were invited but didn't attend the meeting.)

While parks and playgrounds don't typically work on top of buildings, it's "an option for the school," Maher said.

Indeed, though the official presentation (at bottom) on 664 Pacific produced by Marvel Architects makes no mention of aboveground playground space, DNAinfo reported that the school’s design includes a 3,000-square-foot 'play yard' on the building’s fourth floor and a 2,100-square-foot open space on the ground floor." (There would be a gym indoors, of course.)

664 Pacific ground floor plan.
Open areas likely not green.

It's not clear how exactly the 2,100 square foot ground floor space would be used, as it's adjacent to residential buildings. (See graphic at left.) But that total of 5,100 square feet pales in comparison with the Dean Playground, which is more than ten times larger.

Other perspectives

The focus on Dean Playground should remind people that the school--less a public benefit than a mitigation for the increased strain on civic resources from a large new population--was sited with little opportunity for outdoor space beyond the elevated exterior space.

After all, if the school were on the southeast block of the project, which will have most of Pacific Park's eight acres of open space and is the first area being built outside the arena block, students might compete to use open space otherwise sought by buyers of expensive condos.

Two of those buildings on the southeast block, 535 Carlton and 550 Vanderbilt, will open in the next few months. The other two were supposed to have started, but are delayed.

When the school was proposed at 664 Pacific, the targeted opening date was September 2018, but at the charrette the expected date was said to August 2019. Now documents in the court case point to 2020.

Until two years ago, the school was not assumed to be at this location. As disclosed in the November 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) produced by Empire State Development, the school was expected to be part of B5, the building site directly north of B15, east of Sixth Avenue between Pacific Street and Atlantic Avenue.

That would have required the construction of an expensive deck, and presumed a steady ten-year buildout--which didn't happen. It also would have included ground-level project open space.

According to the Mitigation chapter:
While the design of the new school would be completed at a later date, it is assumed that the school would include outdoor play areas including playground space for pre-kindergarten through the first grade and hard surface playground or active play yard for other grades. The school play areas could be provided within the eight acres of open space to be developed as part of the proposed project and would be adjacent to the development site containing the school.
Should the school be located in a portion of the base of Building 5, the school play areas would likely be located to the east or south of the building. The school’s at-grade play areas would be fully accessible to the public during non-school hours. Therefore, the provision of the school and play areas would not substantially affect the open space proposed as part of the project or the open space analysis. 
(Emphases added)

In other words, the school play areas, at least as previously contemplated, would come out of the project's overall open space. Now it may impinge on neighborhood open space.

Below, the open space plan from Thomas Balsley Associates, with B15 at bottom left. (Note the developers' misleading claim that there "will no longer be a dearth of green space in the heart of Brooklyn," given that residents of the complex likely will rely on existing large parks like Prospect Park and Fort Greene Park.)


Other school concerns: move the entrance?

According to the report from the April charrette, school advocates were concerned that, given a planned school entrance mid-block on Sixth Avenue, students might cross in the middle of the street instead of at a light. "The group wondered whether the entrance should be relocated to Dean Street where a better connection with the playground would be possible," the report stated.

They also discussed prioritizing Dean Street for students during school hours, which could reduce vehicle traffic to one travel lane.

At the meeting last week, however, Dean Street residents balked. "Bus route, bike lane, double parking [at the nearby Temple of Restoration]," one quipped. "Other than that, it's a really quiet block."

Department of Transportation representative Abigail Ikner, without commenting on the specific entrance, said the DOT would look at signage and speed bumps to foster safety around the school.

An opportune location?

City Council Member Laurie Cumbo, of the 35th District, was the meeting's invited guest. She arrived about one hour into the two-hour meeting. She acknowledged multiple concerns about the school, including the need to manage dismissals, given that the area in the orbit of the arena and adjacent malls has become a magnet for students.

Cumbo was told of concerns about the Dean Playground and the school entrance, then asked the group, "how does the block feel about the idea of the school?"

"Wish it wasn't coming," said one resident. Others murmured assent. "We feel it's an unsafe place for a school," Weinstein said, acknowledging it's a reality and adding, "But how do we keep it safe?" She added that people were worried about teachers driving in early to park in the neighborhood.

One resident turned the question back to Cumbo: "Do you think the location is a smart move?"

"I didn't think it was a good idea to put it there when all the things were laid out," Cumbo responded. "But it was one of those things... certain projects or decisions were made before you got here."

That's not quite so, as Cumbo was elected in 2013, the site shift to B15 surfaced in April 2014, and the push to make it a middle school--rather than a hybrid elementary/middle school--began in the middle of 2015, with vigorous advocacy from both middle-school backers and those warning about the location.

At a July 2015 press conference backing M.S. One Brooklyn, Cumbo echoed the need to "provide a quality middle school choice" to local residents, and said "the voice of the people, and of our children, have spoken loud and clear." As I reported, only Public Advocate Letitia James among supporteres publicly acknowledged that the school's site "is very challenging."

At the meeting last week, resident Regina Cahill commented, "We all testified in front of the SCA [School Construction Authority] that this was the worst corner." Peter Krashes noted the Dean Street Block Association submitted testimony about the location.
From Marvel Architects: school in yellow at base of tower; note location of police and fire stations, also in yellow.
Progress, and frustration

Progress may result from the meeting. Cumbo said she could help coordinate meetings with city agencies regarding the operation of the school. Residents told Cumbo the issues were broader regarding the impact of the project, and she agreed to work on those issues, as well.

Also in the audience was Jaime Stein, a board member of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC), the body set up in 2014 (but first meeting in 2015) to advise Empire State Development, the state agency overseeing the project.

"This whole discussion of the intricacies of the school did not come to the board at all," said Stein, who's one of the few AY CDC board members to attend public meetings and gather information independently.

One resident said she'd given up on the regular state-sponsored meetings regarding the project, such as the bi-monthly Quality of Life Community Update meeting (which will next be held on Nov. 1). "We are totally disgusted with the fact that our voices are not being heard."


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