Re-Siting UWS Schools Shouldn't Get Knee-Jerk Opposition, Leader Says

By Emily Frost on February 26, 2013 7:31am 

UPPER WEST SIDE — Opponents of a plan to move two Upper West Side elementary schools to make way for high rise buildings have been warned not to make a knee-jerk reaction.

The Educational Construction Fund (ECF), an agency within the Department of Education, has proposed temporarily re-siting P.S. 191 and P.S. 199 to make way for developments, with the promise that new schools would be built at the base of the new buildings.

Community Board 7 member and City Council candidate Helen Rosenthal said that while she understood concerns about density and overpopulation, she also wanted to give the proposal adequate consideration.

"I don’t understand the rush to hold this [proposal] at bay," she said.

"Of course it has to be scoped and considered, I just want to make sure that we’re sending the signal that we want to send," she told her board colleagues at a recent education committee meeting. 

P.S. 191 is on West 61st Street while P.S. 199 is on West 70th Street, both between Amsterdam and West End avenues.

Rosenthal said that friends of hers on the East Side were thrilled with the way the ECF handled the redevelopment of the 
High School of Art and Design

"The people I’m talking to [on the East Side] are saying, ‘How fast can you grab it?’" she said.

Rosenthal said she sees the proposed building of a new school as a potential solution to overcrowding in the district. 

"They’re not proposing that we close one of our schools. They’re proposing we get a better school and there’s a possibility of additional seats," she said.

"We have to let it go through the public review process. We need to let this opportunity play out."

P.S. 199 PTA President Eric Shuffler said that his school community is "trying to keep an open mind on [the developments] and keep people calm."

At the same time, he said, he and others are anxious to get in writing that the process will go through public review under the city's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). 

"By the time you get to ULURP, there’s going to be a development," said Community Board 7 member and City Council Candidate Mel Wymore.

Wymore urged the board to form a task force so that it could have input on the process as early as possible.

"It will help your parents to know that there’s something in place to watch and track [ECF's plans,]" said Wymore.

The education committee passed a resolution asking the ECF for a high level of involvement before the plans go through the public review process, and resolved to form a task force on the issue.

According to Shuffler, Jamie Smarr, the 
Executive Director of the fund,  said it would be ready to discuss the developers' plans in April.

"The first hint that this is at all viable is when they need to sit down with the community," said Shuffler.

Board member Roberta Semer cautioned, "It’s a slippery slope. You start selling off one or two schools, what’s to stop you from selling off more public schools?"

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