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City Expands Peck Slip School to Address Downtown Overcrowding

By DNAinfo Staff on November 1, 2011 4:08pm

By Julie Shapiro and Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Staff

LOWER MANHATTAN — The city is increasing the size of Downtown's much-anticipated Peck Slip School, in an effort to combat school overcrowding in lower Manhattan, officials announced Tuesday.

The Peck Slip School will now offer 656 elementary seats, rather than the previously announced 476 seats, a Department of Education spokesman said.

"We realize there's an increasing need for seats in lower Manhattan," the DOE spokesman said.

Nearby, TriBeCa's P.S. 234 had a kindergarten waitlist of 38 children this year, and other Downtown schools took in extra classes of kindergarten children to avoid turning students away.

The city will fit in the additional seats into the Peck Slip School by adding two floors totaling 20,000 square feet to the existing post office building at 1 Peck Slip, which the city purchased for $13.5 million earlier this fall.

The addition to the building will cost the School Construction Authority an extra $9 million, funded by shifting money within the current capital plan, the DOE spokesman said.

The city decided to add the extra 180 seats after realizing that two new floors could be added to the building without delaying its scheduled 2015 opening date.

"It was an easy fit," the DOE spokesman said.

Downtown politicians and community leaders who advocated for the expansion of the Peck Slip School hailed the city's decision on Tuesday.

"I am thrilled that the parents of lower Manhattan will have this expanded, state-of-the-art new school," Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who wrote letters to the SCA encouraging the expansion, said in a statement.

"This expansion of the Peck Slip site is a huge win for our community and for our lower Manhattan children."

The Peck Slip expansion is part of the Department of Education’s latest update to its five-year capital plan, which covers major investments, including maintaining and building new schools.

The revised plan acknowledges the growing demand for new schools and sets out $3.45 billion to build 26,808 new seats in an estimated 52 buildings citywide.

The new seats in the Peck Slip School will likely allow the school to offer four sections per grade, one more than previously announced.

A smaller version of the new school, with two sections per grade, will start with just kindergarten classes in an incubator in Tweed Courthouse in the fall of 2012, before moving to the Peck Slip building in 2015.

The city is currently rezoning lower Manhattan's schools to carve a new zone for Peck Slip and address overcrowding at the neighborhood's existing schools. It was not immediately clear what impact the addition of Peck Slip seats would have on the city's zoning proposal.

Community Board 1 Chairwoman Julie Menin said she was glad to see the city taking the community's overcrowding concerns seriously.

"It's terrific," she said of the larger school. "It will definitely be needed to address the incredible influx of new families we will have in the CB1 area."

State Sen. Daniel Squadron and City Councilwoman Margaret Chin also released statements praising the DOE.

But Eric Greenleaf, a P.S. 234 parent and New York University Stern School of Business professor who has examined birth rate and school enrollment data, said that while the bigger school will help, it will not solve overcrowding problems Downtown.

The new space at Peck Slip would have met Downtown's kindergarten space needs this year, but lower Manhattan's birth rate is still growing, Greenleaf said.

"We're still desperately short of space," he said. "We're still way behind."

In addition to the expansion of Peck Slip, the DOE also announced Tuesday that it is planning to shift $200 million in technology funding from this year’s budget to 2013 and 2014, to even out the amount the city has to spend over the next three years.

The move "better positions us to do important infrastructure and technology work in a way that does not disrupt students and schools," the DOE said in a statement.

The DOE's capital plan must still be reviewed by the Community Education Councils, the Panel for Educational Policy and the City Council as part of the regular budget process.