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'Privileged' Dalton School's 2-Story Expansion Plan Blasted by Neighbors

By Victoria Bekiempis | September 12, 2013 11:17am
 The tony Dalton School, 108-114 E. 89th St., wants to build a two-story addition on the top of its building to make room for more science and math programming. The school unveiled its plans — and ultimately received CB8's disapproval — at a land use committee meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 11 2013.
Dalton School Expansion Plan
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UPPER EAST SIDE — The Dalton School's plan to construct a two-story addition atop the elite private school earned an "F" from neighbors who called the proposal "gargantuan" and an attempt by the institution to unfairly use its "privileged" status.

Dalton officials and representatives went before Community Board 8's Land Use Committee  on Wednesday to pitch desired zoning variances that would permit the tony school — which counts Claire Danes, Chevy Chase and Anderson Cooper among its alumni  — to increase its square footage.

Administrators and parents promised that Dalton was not growing the student body. Rather, Dalton desperately needs the space for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) initiatives — such as a robotics lab and rooftop greenhouse, they said.

The plan includes growing the building from its current height of 143 feet to 170 feet, a total increase of 12,164 square feet, officials said.

Local residents and board members blasted the proposal, saying that students at the $40,000-per-year private school should go somewhere else if they're not happy with their current building.

"All I hear is 'your poor students.' I don't think we should be sacrificed to them," said Fran Manushkin, who lives in an East 88th Street building adjacent to Dalton.

"I appreciate your wanting your students to be educated," she continued. "There's no requirement that they be in the school where you are now. Your students are very privileged — they can go to another place to study."

Presently, Dalton "can only offer one 30-student robotics class" and cannot meet students' demands for computer science courses, let alone offer advanced courses such as game theory, school officials said at the meeting.

"The program is not at the level it needs to be because of space constraints," said Head of School Ellen Stein. "That is just not acceptable."

Though Stein and project backers pointed to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's work on promoting STEM initiatives, opponents quickly fired back that Dalton already had enough space — and balked at claims that students at the school were in crisis.

"They've already been given a lot of privilege," said another East 88th Street neighbor. "All they want is more."

Marti Murray, an investment banker, took issue with Dalton's effort to meet with neighbors to discuss the plan in August.

"That was kind of a stealth little process. It was in the dog days of summer — I wasn't going to be able to go," Murray said of the meeting — a sentiment shared by some CB8 members.

Though Dalton administrators spent much of the three-hour meeting responding to critics, the board was not convinced and ultimately voted to deny the zoning request.

"They're all gargantuan," CB8 member Elizabeth Ashby lamented of neighborhood schools' variance requests. "They have to be bigger and bigger and bigger. They need this, they need that."

Ashby then quipped: "The addition of the moment seems to be the greenhouse — next it'll be a heliport."

Dalton's land use lawyer, Jay Segal, told DNAinfo New York after the meeting that the school is disappointed by CB8's decision — which is advisory, not binding — but is already looking ahead to a Board of Standards and Appeals zoning hearing on Sept. 24, 2014.