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City Plans to Tear Down Two Upper West Side Schools for High-Rises

By Emily Frost | February 18, 2013 6:52am | Updated on February 18, 2013 12:03pm

UPPER WEST SIDE — The city wants to knock down two Upper West Side elementary schools to clear the way for privately developed high-rise apartment towers — a plan that is infuriating local parents and education advocates.

The Department of Education's Educational Construction Fund posted a request for interested developers in Crain's New York in November, offering up two "prime development sites" at 210 W. 61st St. and 270 W. 70th St., without mentioning the fact that they are home to P.S. 191 and P.S. 199.

A formal request for expressions of interest lauded the "coveted" sites as being "located within neighborhoods exhibiting exceptionally strong residential market fundamentals" and added that the sites "are among the few chances remaining to build large projects" on the Upper West Side.

Students would be relocated during construction, and the developer would have to build a new school in the base of the new towers, officials said.

But parents are not happy about the prospect of switching school buildings.

"Kicking students out of their home school is not a gentle process. There will be an immediate negative impact on learning," said Laurie Frey, a parent and member of the District 3 Community Education Council.

"Building new to bump up the real estate market will leave kids in limbo just when they need to buckle down and study," she added. "New Yorkers pack up and move all the time, bed bugs and all, but that doesn't mean it's a good thing." 

The Department of Education is also looking to sell the School of Cooperative Technical Education at 321 E. 96th St., which serves 11th and 12th-graders.

Developers can apply to buy all three school buildings or just one of them, officials said.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said in a letter that he's heard from many parents from all three schools concerned about whether "their school will be demolished imminently," and "where the DOE will send students, teachers and staff whose buildings it has torn down," and that these unanswered questions have created "significant anxiety."

The letter was signed by community leaders including Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal and City Councilwoman Gale Brewer.

At a recent Community Education Council meeting, Jamie Smarr, executive director of the DOE's Educational Construction Fund, reassured parents that the sale of the schools would be subject to public review under the Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP), which requires a vote by the City Council.

That public review would begin in May or June, once the city has selected a developer for the project, and then construction would take about two years, Smarr said, according to people who attended the meeting. Twelve developers have expressed interest in the sites, Smarr said.

Eric Shuffler, P.S. 199's PTA President, said he and other parents have major concerns but are trying to keep an open mind.

"We have been assured that no proposal will be considered unless there is a suitable relocation facility in our [area], that our school will be kept together, that there will be extensive discussions with us and that any proposal will go through ULURP which ensures adequate public and Community Board input and eventual City Council approval," Shuffler wrote in an email. 

He added that parents want to make sure the proposal doesn't get in the way of the DOE's cleanup of toxic PCBs from the school buildings

"The possibility of this happening at either 199 or 191 cannot be allowed to in any way delay PCB remediation efforts at either school," Shuffler said.

The DOE did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Brewer and Stringer both worried about the impact of the new developments on the community.

"I’m not sure I want another tall building on the West Side," Brewer said. "I don’t want shadows over Amsterdam houses [near P.S. 191]."

Stringer added, "New developments can increase traffic, impact neighborhood character and add a new population to an area that already lacks school seats and other amenities."