Community Board 7 Rejects Columbia Grammar Expansion Proposal

By Emily Frost on April 4, 2013 12:34pm 

UPPER WEST SIDE — Community Board 7 has rejected a proposed plan by Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School to expand by two stories.

The school is seeking approval of building variances to create a separate middle school by increasing its height by 30 feet and creating 10 new classrooms — a move school officials said is programmatically necessary and would only result in an increase of 10 new students.  

But neighbors complained at a meeting Wednesday night that the private K - 12 school on West 93rd Street and Central Park West has caused years of traffic headaches that would only be exacerbated by construction and new students. 

"The issue is idling. It’s abhorrent to have people idling in huge cars in front of the school," board member Gabrielle Palitz told her colleagues at the meeting.

Board member Marisa Maack, who said that she usually supports school growth in an overcrowded district, said she couldn't vote for plan in its current form.

"I don’t think I’m willing to vote on this until I see what the traffic mitigations are going to be. I don’t trust that the school is going to follow through," she said. "It’s a culture issue at the school and it’s a leadership issue."

Headmaster Richard J. Soghoian conceded that between 150 to 200 cars descend on the school every day. To pacify neighbors and deal with the issue, the school has enlisted the help of Sam Schwartz Traffic Engineering consultancy.

Douglas Adams, a representative from the company, suggested the school hire private "pedestrian managers" described as being between a crossing guard and a police officer to help manage the congestion. 

Some parents and school representatives agreed that the school, which they said was part of the community, needs the space for educational reasons. The school would work with the neighborhood to find solutions, they added.

 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

"We are the only school, private or public, that doesn’t have a middle school," said parent Lauren Palerno. "It would be really nice to know that at school [middle school aged students] don’t have to be in an environment with 17 and 18-year-old kids." 

Susan Drew, an architect from Gruzen Sampton who worked on the school's proposal, said the additional space was absolutely necessary.

"Right now, there are students who are having classes in corridors," she said.

The architecture firm presented a slightly revised plan to the full board Wednesday night, after earlier plans were met with criticism. The new plan features sloped roofs on the east and west sides of the addition, and a rooftop garden and ivy-covered wall to create a more pleasing view for neighbors. 

"People above [the addition] will look at a green roof," said architect Peter Samton. 

"It’s not perfect, but if you remember, this is probably one of the first plans we’ve seen that has allowed for more sunlight and air," said board member Page Cowley. 

The Board of Standards and Appeals will issue its final decision on whether to grant the building variances sought by the school later this spring.

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