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New Committee Plans Future of Beacon High School Building

By Emily Frost | April 22, 2013 7:05am | Updated on April 23, 2013 2:10pm

UPPER WEST SIDE — After months of delays, education and community leaders are beginning to plan the future of the Beacon High School building, which will be vacated by the fall of 2015 when the school moves to its new home in Midtown.

Community Board 7's Beacon Building Working Group, which recently held its first meeting, is tasked with developing a plan to bring a District 3 school to the space. 

The idea for the working group was first raised last fall, but it took months to organize it because the district's community education council could not reach an agreement on the membership and direction of the group.

"I’m a little frustrated that it took this long to get the committee going," said CB7 Chairman Mark Diller. "But I refused to get the committee going without full representation."

The group is made up of Committee Board 7 Board Chair Mark Diller and members Marisa Maack and Jaye Bea Smalley; two members of the CEC; a representative from the D3 Presidents Council; two members of Community Board 10; a representative from the Citywide Council of High Schools; a representative from the Citywide Council on Special Education; P.S. 76 Principal Charles DeBerry; and a representative from the English Language Learners Council.

The next step is for the group to hold a walk-through of the Beacon building on West 61st Street, accompanied by representatives from the DOE, to assess the building's structural needs and limitations. It currently houses 1,263 students, about 300 students above its capacity, according to Insideschools.

But the planned walk-through, which does not yet have a scheduled date, has sparked concerns that the Department of Education may be eyeing the Beacon building as a new home for P.S. 191, if the city goes forward with its proposal to tear down both P.S. 191 and P.S. 199 and replace them with privately developed high-rises.

However, Maack and others said there was no connection between plans for the Beacon site and plans for P.S. 191 and P.S. 199. 

"The only purpose of the walk-through is so that people on the committee understand the space — just to be able to see the building, know what you’re dealing with, know what the cafeteria looks like, know what the street looks like," Maack said.

The Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment.

In addition to the walk-through, there will be a public meeting on May 16 to solicit ideas on the future of the Beacon building. Some are pushing for the building to become a new middle school for the district.

"The public meeting on the 16th has no agenda — let’s hear from the public about what they think the space should be," said Eric Shuffler, president of P.S. 199's PTA.

In response to parents' concerns about the proposed demolition of P.S. 191 and P.S. 199, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott committed at a recent town hall meeting to get more feedback from residents before moving forward with the plans. 

Walcott assured anxious parents that the DOE's Educational Construction Fund, the arm that proposed the two school sites for private redevelopment, was not on the verge of issuing a request for development proposals, said Shuffler, who attended the town hall.

"[Walcott] did state very clearly that he would allow community input before the RFPs went out," added Maack, who also attended the meeting.