Plans for Upper West Side's First New School in Decades to be Revealed

By Leslie Albrecht on April 18, 2012 7:20am 

UPPER WEST SIDE — As the Upper West Side struggles with increasingly crowded schools, locals will get a chance this week to learn more about plans for the neighborhood's first new facility in decades.

Officials from the School Construction Authority will present more details on P.S. 342, the new school to be built at Riverside Center, at Thursday's Community Board 7 Youth, Education and Libraries committee meeting.

Plans for P.S. 342 are being closely watched on the Upper West Side, where several elementary schools were recently forced to put local kids on waiting lists for kindergarten seats.

"We are actually building new capacity for the district for the first time in decades, and we desperately need more capacity," said Marisa Maack, co-chair of the committee.

In December, SCA officials announced plans for a 488-seat, 85,000 square foot K-8 school at the massive Riverside Center development, and said another 15,000 square feet could be added to the school later. In February, the Department of Education agreed to expand the school to 100,000 square foot.

But since then DOE hasn't said how many students the larger school will serve — a key question in a district where every seat counts, Maack said.

Upper West Side parents are also eager to hear about exactly where the new school will be located at Riverside Center, which will bring five high-rise apartment buildings, shops and offices to an eight-acre swath of land between West 59th Street, West 61st Street, West End Avenue and Riverside Boulevard.

Maack said she and other parents are also curious about the timing of the opening of the new school. Parents want the school to open as soon as possible, but that could mean putting kids in the middle of a giant contruction site as the rest of Riverside Center is built up, Maack said.

"I have major concerns that the school will be ready to open within this larger construction site," Maack said. "The goal was to make sure it was open and ready to go as soon as possible, but I'm curious to hear what kind of accommodations they’re going to be making for it."

The new school was one of the most contentious aspects of Extell Development Company's new Riverside Center project, which will be built on the largest piece of undeveloped land on the Upper West Side.

The 2,500-apartment development will add thousands of new families to an already strained school district, and local officials asked Extell to build a 150,000 square foot school at Riverside Center. After negotiations, Extell agreed to build the "core and shell" of a 100,000 square foot school.

Some say the new school, scheduled to open in September 2015, will be overcrowded on its first day. A recent study by real estate investment services firm Eastern Consolidated found that the pace of new construction on the Upper West Side far outstrips the supply of school seats.

Others have raised concerns that Extell's reported plans to sell two pieces of land at Riverside Center could delay the school. But the developer has publicly assured State Senator Tom Duane that no matter who owns the land, the school will be built.

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