UWS Residents Oppose Private School Expansion, Citing Traffic Nightmares

By Emily Frost on February 22, 2013 9:45am 

UPPER WEST SIDE — A proposed expansion by Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School has been blasted by Upper West Side residents who fear traffic congestion at the private school will be worsened if the controversial plan becomes a reality.

The move would add two stories to the school's existing building, located at West 93rd Street and Central Park West, to create a middle school, said Howard Weiss, a Columbia Grammar representative. The plan has already received approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission, but school officials were still seeking community and Community Board 7 approval for a zoning variance before taking it to the Board of Standards and Appeals.

But dozens of residents at a meeting Wednesday night expressed concern, worrying that the proposed height increase of 30 feet and 10 new classrooms at the school would create traffic and lighting problems in the neighborhood. A new cafeteria for 88 middle school students is part of the expansion, too. 

"I’m deeply concerned about the effects this expansion will have on quality of life," said one neighbor. "The question of the light being cut off, the traffic, the noise." 

Resident Alison Murphy said she was concerned about the expansion blocking her windows.

"While you are adding light for students, you are taking away light for everyone else who lives around the school," she said.

But Columbia Grammar Headmaster Richard J. Soghoian said the school would only add 10 new students for a total of 1,300 enrolled students, calling the plans "a modest request."

"We’re the last school standing in New York City that does not have a middle school, among the many hundred or so private schools in New York," Soghoian said. 

He conceded that the school does have a traffic problem, with 150 to 200 cars converging on the school in the mornings and afternoons each day. 

"It's a problem," he said. "We’ve spent a lot of money on security. It hasn’t all worked."

 A packed hearing on the Upper West Side regarding the new 
A packed hearing on the Upper West Side regarding the new 
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DNAinfo/ Emily Frost

Resident Bertha Bower said typical traffic jams at the school begin each morning at 7:20 a.m. and continue through the start of school at 8:30 a.m. It picks up again in the afternoon, she said. 

"If an ambulance needed to get through, they couldn’t," Bower said.

City Councilwoman Gale Brewer has notified the 20th Precinct of the problem and also asked the school to deal with the issue of idling livery cars and private drivers dropping and picking up students twice a day.

"Many are concerned that the cars retrieving children lead to unnecessary pedestrian dangers, and adversely affect air quality, impacting both students and residents," Brewer wrote to the school in 2010.

To appease residents, who have been complaining for years, Soghoian said the school is hiring traffic engineer Sam Schwartz to assess the problem and make recommendations.

But when asked whether the school would consider delaying its expansion plans until the traffic situation was better mediated, Soghoian said the school would not put its proposal on hold. 

"This variance application has no relationship to the traffic situation," Weiss said. 

Soghoian said he planned for the expansion to begin in 17 months and for the most intense construction to happen over the summer months. 

"I hope that within a month we make major strides towards solving the whole issue of traffic," said Soghoian. 

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