By Jeff Mays
HARLEM — Columbia University and the city's Department of Education have introduced dramatic changes to their plan to create a new public school as part of the University's West Harlem expansion — after some in the neighborhood complained Columbia was reneging on its original promise.
In April, Teachers College officials announced that the proposed Teachers College Elementary school would serve K-5 students instead of the initial proposal to include K - 8, and said they would only accept students from Community School District 5.
That plan angered members of Community Board 9, who had been working with the university to approve the elementary school, but whose area also includes students from the DOE's School District 6.
After meeting with members of CB9, Teachers College Elementary has agreed to accept students from both Community School Districts 5 and 6, those involved in the negotiations said.
When the school opens in the fall with a kindergarten class, it will be temporarily housed inside P.S. 133 Fred R. Moore, at Fifth Avenue and East 130th Street.
The school will relocate to the site of the St. Joseph's Catholic School on Morningside Ave between 126th and 127th streets, which is in the process of closing, by fall of 2012, said those involved in the planning.
The move to St. Joseph's former site will allow the school to expand to serve students in grades K-8, according to CB9 members Vicky Gholson and Fathima Torres.
"We wanted to make sure the school fit the mandate described in the community benefits agreement of serving the kids of Community Board 9," said Gholson.
Columbia signed a $150 million community benefits agreement that included the promise to help operate a new K-8 school as part of the plans to spend $6.3 billion to extend its university complex into West Harlem on 17 acres of land from West 129th to West 133rd streets, between Broadway and 12th Avenue.
Other changes in the works are a plan to hire an experienced principal from Harlem with two decades of experience, a plan to offer Pre-K and also after school programs, and programs to serve special needs children.
Parents had been concerned about transporting the youngsters across Harlem to its temporary location at P.S. 133, but the DOE has agreed to provide transportation, said Gholson.
A member of Community Board 9 was also invited to serve on the school's leadership team.
Gholson and Torres said the community was working from a "position of outrage" because of the way changes were made to the original plan.
Now, although there are still outstanding issues to be resolved, progress is being made.
"Since the last report Teachers College gave to Community Board 9 we have made positive progress," said Torres.