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Columbia University Reneging on Expansion Promise, Say Harlem Residents

By Jeff Mays | April 23, 2011 4:35pm | Updated on April 24, 2011 11:21am
Nancy Streim, an associate vice president at Teachers College, explains changes to the plan to build a school in Community Board 9.
Nancy Streim, an associate vice president at Teachers College, explains changes to the plan to build a school in Community Board 9.
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DNAInfo/Jeff Mays

By Jeff Mays

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

HARLEM — Columbia University's plans to build a new public school for those affected by its multi-billion-dollar expansion into West Harlem have been dramatically scaled back, angering residents who were counting on the space for their kids.

The university promised a K-8 school for Community Board 9, which covers western portions of Morningside Heights, Harlem and Hamilton Heights, as part of a 2007 package of compensation benefits.

But a university official announced at a community board meeting Thursday that the new school will now only serve K-5 students, and would accept applicants from just a portion of Community Board 9’s territory.

Under the new plan, the public school would take students from School District 5, which covers only part of the community board area and extends into East Harlem.

Kids outside that district, but still in CB 9, would not be eligible for places. Many of the families in CB 9 are served by School District 6.

An official at Columbia Teachers College, which is providing $30 million of in-kind services for the new school, placed the blame with the Department of Education.

"In the end, it is the DOE that determines the boundaries [of the area served by the new school]," said Nancy Streim, an associate vice president.

The development upset a number of CB 9 residents.

"Something has gone awry," said Vicky Gholson, a board member. "A mistake has been made in accountability. The Department of Education has to be accountable to someone."

"I feel like we are about to not get a promise kept," said another member.

The new school will debut in the fall with a kindergarten class of 50, and add one grade per year until it reaches the fifth grade.

Streim said plans for a middle school would have to be discussed after that.

"We, at Teachers College, are thinking of this as phase one," she added.

Residents and officials were not pleased with that approach and vowed to fight.

"The intent of the community benefits agreement was to open a school to impact children in Community Board 9," said board chair Larry English.

"That's why people file lawsuits to enforce agreements."

Streim also said that the DOE plans to temporarily co-locate the first kindergarten class from the new school at P.S. 133 Fred R. Moore, at Fifth Avenue and East 130th Street, while it finalized a permanent home.

A Panel for Educational Policy hearing on the co-location is scheduled in Brooklyn Thursday.

DOE and Columbia University officials could not be reached for comment.

Columbia plans to spend $6.3 billion to extend into West Harlem on 17 acres of land from West 129th to West 133rd streets, between Broadway and the Henry Hudson Parkway.