Skip to main content

Featured Post

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what's coming + FAQ (pinned post)

SCA surprise: middle school at B15 tower won't open until 2023, will house 800 students (not 640); more concern about safety issues

This is the first of several articles based on the 9/17/19 Quality of Life meeting, hosted by Empire State Development (ESD), the state authority overseeing and shepherding the project.

In March, we learned at a meeting of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation that the B15 tower, aka 664 Pacific Street, should be finished by Spring 2022. (See slide below.)

A 640-seat middle school, occupying the building's first six floors and very deep below-grade space (see photo further below), was supposed to open by August 2022, School Construction Authority (SCA) records said.

Not exactly.

Last night, an SCA rep revealed that the school will not open until September 2023--a delay based on the aim to "refresh" designs over the past nine months--and it will hold 800 students, a 25% increase. (It's unclear whether the school space--previously said to be 100,000 square feet, both above and below ground--is increasing.)

School entrance mid-block Sixth Ave., near NYPD
 & FDNY. Arena secondary (& staff) entrance
 = red arrow. Arena loading dock = purple arrow.
We got no official update on the timing for the residential tower, which could open before the school; the signage at the construction site, above right, still says 4th Quarter 2021.

Location issues

While the increased capacity might please parents eager for school seats, albeit those willing to wait past the original 2018 projected date, it sets up more complications for a school sited at an already congested location, near police and fire stations, plus the Barclays Center.

The school entrance would be on Sixth Avenue between Dean and Pacific Streets. (Here's the overall site plan. At left is a map showing the proximity to the police, fire, and arena locations.)

"It just makes no common sense," said Elaine Weinstein, a nearby resident and co-chair of the North Prospect Heights Association, who cited street safety problems already being exacerbated by construction of the B15 tower, as well as the B4 tower at the northeast corner of the arena block. "It's hard to imagine safety."

The school was once said to be located at the B5 site, between Pacific Street and Atlantic Avenue east of Sixth Avenue, but that, of course, requires an expensive platform and does not offer below-grade space. Community Board 2 suggested that the school be located on the southeast block of the site, farther from police, fire, and Barclays.

A March 2019 slide
March 2019 developer presentation cited 600 school seats, not 640. Now 800 seats are planned, with a 2023 completion.
Unreliable plans

The new information--revealed only at the meeting, rather than in a pre-meeting agenda that would've given attendees time to digest it--also raises questions about candor from city and state officials regarding the school.

As I wrote, an August 2016 letter from ESD head Howard Zemsky to Assemblymember Walter Mosley, stated "A district wide middle school is also expected to open in the Fall of 2018."
Current construction. View from 670 Pacific Street.

That was dubious, given that 664 Pacific, then a 27-story market-rate rental building with a school at its base, had not been launched after its unveiling in 2015. (Both the earlier and current version of the tower are the work of Marvel Architects.)

The construction timing also has been unreliable. According to a court file, a representative of master developer Greenland Forest City Partners said excavation and construction at the site would take four years, including 12 months for excavation and 36 months for construction.

That would conform to a 2023 schedule, at least for the school.

But the tower, if not the school, could arrive faster. At the March meeting, a representative of The Brodsky Organization, the company that bought B15 development rights from Greenland Forest City, predicted a ten-month foundation period, then a 24-month construction period. That conforms to the predicted Spring 2022 completion date for the residential building, at least.

A two-year school buildout?

The developer builds the school's core and shell, including mechanicals; the SCA then builds out the school components.

Several documents have suggested a two-year school buildout. A 2018 ESD report stated that "the Developer reported that a contract had been signed with the SCA specifying that the construction of the intermediate school must be completed within two (2) years of construction start at the B15 site."

That construction start would be only after site preparation and excavation. The contract, presumably, has been modified, though there was no mention of that last night.

The SCA's February 2018 Capital Plan (p. C8) pointed to a July 2019 construction start and June 2021 project completion. But the SCA's November 2018 Capital Plan (p. C8) pointed to a June 2020 construction start and August 2022 project completion, in time for the 2022-23 school year.

The SCA's February 2019 Capital Plan, excerpted below, similarly suggested a June 2020 construction start, after excavation, and completion by August 2022. That, however, presumed a May 2015 start for design work, which apparently has gone through a revision.

The SCA will issue a Capital Plan amendment in November, Tamar Smith, the agency's Community Relations Manager, External Affairs, said last night. Presumably that will update the timing. It also might update the school's cost, previously said to be $126.15 million.

More school details

Smith said she would return to consult with parents and neighbors about plans for the interiors, including "a lot of great amenities," such as science labs.

While the school has been dubbed by advocates M.S. One Brooklyn (with an arts/culture/STEM focus), it is officially I.S. 653. Smith said the Department of Education (DOE) would decide how to program the building.

The school will have two outdoor play areas, one at grade in the back of the building.

Students, buses, and parking

Asked where the school population would come from, Smith said that District 13 goes from Brooklyn Heights to Bedford-Stuyvesant, including Prospect Heights. Most middle schools accept students from anywhere in the district, though that's a Department of Education decision.

"For the most part," she said, buses are not expected, but there could be some "special circumstances." (One attendee cited special education.)
District 13, from SCA. New school location indicated by added arrow.
There is no curb cut planned on Sixth Avenue, which raised concerns from attendees worried about buses, pickups, and double parking on a relatively narrow street.

Asked about the location, Smith said, "we do always take safety into consideration," and have opened schools in congested areas, "and it works."

When pressed by Weinstein, however, Smith acknowledged there was not one as close to a sports facility.

Weinstein expressed skepticism that announced coordination with the fire department wouldn't cause problems, if the trucks had to respond when students were exiting the school.

The hours of school operations and arena operations should not typically conflict, but periodic arena events--like graduations and pep rallies--do occur during daytime hours, as do deliveries. Also, after-hours school events could conflict with arena crowds arriving.

Where will teachers and staff park? Unclear, but there's no parking associated with the building, and police and fire personnel typically encroach on nearby sidewalks. "One great thing about this area is that it's a transit hub," Smith said.

Previous plans change + new details

The B15 tower with market-rate units, unveiled in December 2015, was supposed to be finished by 2018, but never launched, given the November 2016 decision by Forest City Enterprises to pause vertical development.

Now the building will be part of the revamped 421-a program, Affordable New York, with 312 units, 94 of them (30%) "affordable."

According to a November 2015 Department of Buildings document (below), the tower was proposed to include 332,279 square feet of residential space and 40,235 square feet of commercial space. While that didn't count below-grade space, that was clearly an error, since a school does not qualify as commercial space. The tower was supposed to be 26 stories and 272 feet tall, with 323 apartments.

According to an August 2019 Department of Buildings document (below), the tower would include 264,674 square feet of residential space and 73,911 square feet of above-ground school (community facility) space. The tower is supposed to be 28 stories and 296 feet tall, with 316 apartments.

That designated height is questionable, since B15 is supposed to have a maximum height of 272 feet, according to a document attached to the Modified General Project Plan.

The building address was previously designated 664 Pacific Street, but it also has been described as 662 Pacific Street. The official school address is 491 Dean Street, according to the SCA, though the school entrance will be on Sixth Avenue.

The building is designated 37 Sixth Avenue in some city records, though a Google Map showing 31 Sixth Avenue (top) better points to the location of the school entrance.

The residential building could open before the school, said ESD's Tobi Jaiyesimi, and sometimes lower levels are occupied before higher floors. However, she didn't have any specifics.