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Parents Angry Over School Safety as P.S. 51 Construction Looms

By DNAinfo Staff on February 7, 2011 6:28am

By Tara Kyle

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

HELL'S KITCHEN — Walk past City Council Speaker Christine Quinn's 224 West 30th St. office over lunch on a Tuesday or Friday, and you'll see a handful of P.S. 51 parents from the elementary school bearing picket signs.

Members of this group, who call themselves Fight for 51 and who protested about asbestos concerns in the fall, are concerned about construction of a new elementary school in P.S. 51's backyard that's slated to get underway as early as March.

"I just feel my kids won't be safe," said Nancy Lainez, a 30-year-old PS 51 mother. "I don't want in five years to hear a call, 'your kid has cancer.' I don't want to receive a call that the building has collapsed."

Other parents and stakeholders believe appropriate safety measures are in order for the project, which will make room for twice as many students at the overcrowded PS 51 at 520 West 45th St., and provide much-needed facilities including a gymnasium.

"There's no question it will have impacts — construction always does. But it seems like they're being very cautious," said parent David Solnick, 56, who works as an architect and said he has reviewed some of the design and construction plans.

"I've got a 5-year-old there. If I thought for a moment that anything was endangering my kid, I'd be the first to pull him out."

Part of the cause of the anxiety is the massive nature of the three-year project, which goes well beyond the school, slated to open for PS 51 students in September 2013.

Later this year, the Gotham Organization will start construction on a slew of residential buildings consuming most of the block, which stretches between West 44th and 45th streets and Tenth and Eleventh avenues. The new development will offer a mix of luxury and permanently affordable housing units.

"Bringing more schools and affordable housing to the west side of Manhattan is key to keeping our neighborhoods a diverse and vibrant community," Quinn said. "We will continue our work to ensure our children are safe and have a state of the art school to attend."

Right now, a task force created by Quinn's office is working to address parent concerns.

One priority right now is assuring that students have a safe lunchtime journey to Matthew-Palmers Playground, according to task force members David Dreyfus, from the school's PTA, and Tom Cayler of the West Side Neighborhood Alliance.

Due to the looming construction, PS 51 students lost access to the yard in the back of the school in January. They will soon spend lunch periods in the park, located nearby on W. 46th St. between Ninth and Tenth avenues.

But everyone wants to assure that the journey across Tenth Avenue — already crowded by taxis, charter buses and a huge gas station, and soon to be used by trucks carrying debris from the construction site — is safe. That means extending hours for a crossing guard and adjusting the traffic signal at the intersection, Dreyfus and Cayler said.

Another move that Cayler, as well as Fight For 51, are pushing for is to get indoor air monitoring inside the school. Cayler said a first air quality test needs to happen in the next few weeks, in order to establish a baseline before construction.

"You would allay a whole lot of parent upset and worry," Cayler said. "In terms of parents, you want to be able to say that everything is being done to protect your kids...It just makes sense."

The Department of Education did not immediately return requests for comment.