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Concerns Grow Over Who Midtown's First Elementary School Will Serve

By Jill Colvin | October 3, 2011 7:53am | Updated on October 3, 2011 7:55am
A rendering of the new school.
A rendering of the new school.
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MDSzerbaty Associates Architecture

MIDTOWN — Concern is growing among some Midtown residents about which students a new local public school will serve.

Community District 5’s very first public elementary school is set to open in 2014 at the site of the Foundling Hospital at the corner of West 17th Street and Sixth Avenue. The new location, which will serve more than 560 students in pre-k through fifth grade, came after years of pressure from parents, who have long urged the Department of Education to do more to ease overcrowding on Manhattan's West Side.

But now some parents are wondering just what type of school Foundling will be, and are rallying the Department of Education to commit to limiting access only to local children by designating it a "zoned" school, which they say the DOE had originally promised it would be.

“We have an acute overcrowding situation in our elementary schools… and our children are suffering because of that,” said Layla Law-Gisiko, chair of Community Board 5's Education, Housing and Human Services committee, which held a discussion on the issue last week.

She and other members stressed the fact that the number of families in the district is on the rise.

“It’s really a pressing matter,” she said, before the committee voted unanimously in favor of a resolution calling on the DOE to designate Foundling a "zoned" school instead of a “choice” school when it opens in 2014.

While both types of schools are traditional public schools, the "choice" designation would open the school to students from across District 2, which stretches all the way from the tip of Lower Manhattan to the Upper East Side — a substantially larger area than than a local school zone.

The DOE says it has not yet made a decision about what the designation will be.

But Shino Tanikawa, president of the District 2 Community Education Council, said the school's designation should be up to local residents, not the DOE.

“It’s not for them to decide. The DOE’s supposed to be consulting with the community and the community council," she said.

She said there is growing concern among local parents and members about what type of school Foundling will be.

While the council has not taken an official position, she said it would make sense to keep the school zoned because of “severe” overcrowding in the area. She also noted parents typically want to be able to keep their kindergarteners close to home by sending them to schools in their communities.

“I don’t think that’s going to fly well,” she said of the choice idea.

The discussion over the Foundling school comes as the the CEC is discussing another massive rezoning plan, which would change the shape of school zones across Manhattan.

In Midtown, the changes would redraw the borders between PS 33 and PS 11, pushing all families that live north of West 23rd Street and south of West 34th Street, west of Fifth Avenue, into PS 33, Chelsea Prep, which is currently under capacity.

Law-Gisiko said she’s concerned that the re-jiggering will allow the DOE to say that neighborhood schools have enough capacity, despite growing populations, and said she'd like to see Foundling included in the remapping, despite the fact that it won’t be open until 2014.

Tanikawa said only schools that will be open next year, or are in the incubation phase, have been included in the proposal, which is set to take effect in 2012.

The Founding Hospital school will occupy the bottom six floors of the the building, with offices above, said John Jr. Gilbert, executive vice president of the Rudin Management Company, which helped secure the deal.

Construction is expected to begin in early 2012 when the pediatric nursing facility that currently occupies the space moves to Yonkers, Gilbert said.