Borough President Supports Charter School at St. Nicholas Houses

By Jeff Mays on February 7, 2011 7:42pm 

By Jeff Mays

DNAInfo Reporter/Producer

HARLEM — Borough President Scott Stringer has thrown his support behind a controversial plan by the Bloomberg Administration and the New York City Housing Authority to build a Harlem Children's Zone charter school on the grounds of St. Nicholas Houses.

"We feel Harlem Children’s Zone will be a valuable addition to the neighborhood, and we strongly support the commitments they have made to the community as part of this negotiation," Stringer told DNAInfo.

The current plan calls for building a 130,000 square foot K-12 school for 1,300 students atop space at the St. Nicholas Houses that is currently used as park space, seating areas, parking lots, gardens and playgrounds. The public housing complex is located between West 127th and West 131st streets and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and Frederick Douglass boulevards. It would be the first time NYCHA will open up a street in one of its super block housing projects.

A professor of urban architectural history at City College has said the project should be smaller and that the cul-de-sac should be left intact.

Under the terms of the charter, children who live in the St. Nicholas houses will be automatically accepted into the new school and will be eligible for preschool programs from the Harlem Children's Zone. The project is also expected to provide 100 short-term and long-term job opportunities, for which St. Nicholas houses residents will get priority.

More than 700 residents there have signed petitions rejecting the plan. They say that an unacceptable amount of open space would be lost. They are also opposed to the opening of a cul-de-sac at 129th Street that NYCHA and Harlem Children's Zone officials say is necessary to drop off kids at the school. Residents say they are concerned that opening the street would bring more traffic to the area and decrease safety.

Community Board 10 voted overwhelmingly to reject the opening of the 129th Street cul-de-sac and returning it to the street grid. That is the only other aspect of the project Stringer was able to issue his advisory opinion on.

NYCHA has said they would add speed bumps and other measures to make sure the street was safe.

"We are thrilled that Borough President Stringer has added his support to this exciting project and that he agrees with us about the importance of reopening West 129th Street for the safety and well-being of the community," Geoffrey Canada, Founder and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, said in a statement.

Stringer said his office was able to extract concessions from both NYCHA and Harlem Children's Zone, including the renovation of one playground and the restoration of all benches that were to be lost. NYCHA and the Harlem Children's Zone would also hold monthly meetings with residents to update them on the status of construction, while providing air conditioners to residents with medical conditions who might be affected by construction.

"As NYCHA and the Harlem Children’s Zone move a step closer towards construction, we also take a giant step forward in bringing an excellent education facility that will serve many of St. Nicholas's youth, and a community facility that will bring a myriad of programs that are free and open to all in the community," said NYCHA chairman John B. Rhea.

The project now heads to the Department of City Planning before going to the City Council for approval. Harlem Councilwoman Inez Dickens has said she was "extremely supportive" of the project but has reservations regarding the residents' safety concern over the opening of the street.

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