Harlem Councilwoman Backs St. Nicholas Charter School — With Reservations

By Jeff Mays on January 12, 2011 2:29pm | Updated on January 12, 2011 2:28pm

A playgrounds at St. Nicholas Houses.
A playgrounds at St. Nicholas Houses.
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DNAInfo/Jeff Mays

By Jeff Mays

DNAInfo Reporter/Producer

HARLEM— Councilwoman Inez Dickens is "extremely supportive" of the plan to build a Harlem Children's Zone charter school at St. Nicholas Houses, but she's concerned about the safety issues being raised by residents.

Lynette Velasco, a spokeswoman for Dickens, said the councilwoman supports Geoffrey Canada and his efforts to address the needs of all area children.

"So far, Harlem Children's Zone has done everything to satisfy the council member's need for all of the children and parents in the district to be included regardless of economic status," said Velasco.

However, Dickens is also concerned about the plan to open a cul-de-sac on 129th street between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Frederick Douglass Boulevard. New York City Housing Authority and Harlem Children's Zones officials say the street is a necessary drop-off point for the 135,000 square foot project that will house 1,300 kids.

Residents there have said opening the street will bring in more traffic. They have also expressed concern about the loss of valuable open space in the middle of the complex which is located between West 127th and West 131st streets and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Frederick Douglass Boulevard. Citizens for the Preservation of St. Nicholas Houses has collected 700 signatures against placing the charter school on the grounds of the complex.

A City College professor of urban architectural history has said the school should be made smaller while keeping the cul-de-sac.

Community Board 10 voted against opening the street and returning it to the street grid last week. They also cited safety concerns and the possibility of future NYCHA development on the site without community input.

NYCHA officials say they have taken steps to address street safety concerns by doing things like adding speed bumps and making changes to the design of the crosswalk. They say the benefits of the project outweigh the risks.

The board's opinion is only advisory but the City Council has the final say on the project and usually looks to the member who represents the area for guidance.

"She takes her community boards very seriously and they have expressed misgivings about opening up the street," Velasco said. "So while she is extremely supportive she is still working to make sure the needs of the community are met."

That may mean meeting with Harlem Children's Zone and NYCHA officials to address the concerns raised by the community board and residents.

"We've dealt with the educational needs and now we have to look at the infrastructure needs and the  concerns with safety. That's an ongoing discussion," said Velasco.

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