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Pricey Private School Fails to Win Backing of Red Hook Community Board

By Nikhita Venugopal | December 12, 2013 8:20am | Updated on December 12, 2013 3:00pm
 Community Board 6 overwhelmingly opposed a plan for a Basis Independent Brooklyn, new $23,000-per-year private school in Red Hook Dec. 11.
Basis Independent Brooklyn
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RED HOOK — Residents battling a controversial private school planned for Red Hook celebrated after a community board refused to back the proposal due to lack of neighborhood outreach and its “inappropriate” location.

Basis Independent Brooklyn, a 1,000-seat school that will charge $23,500 in annual tuition fees with no plans for scholarships for local kids in its first year, is slated to open next fall.

But residents who attended Community Board 6’s general meeting Wednesday said the school is wrong for Red Hook.

The board voted overwhelmingly to disapprove an application from the Board of Standards and Appeals for a special permit that would allow the school’s for-profit operator to build an 89,556-square-foot building at 556 Columbia St., a space that isn’t zoned for school use.

Their decision was made on the grounds that the site was an “inappropriate place for a school and because of failure to engage the community.”

Recent census data shows the median household income in the immediate area — which includes the NYCHA housing developments Red Hook Houses East and West — is $16,748. That's less than three-quarters of the annual tuition for the private school.

“This is either a blatant attempt to… fly under the radar or, in the best case, incredibly naïve to think that you could put a school servicing a wealthier constituent group into a neighborhood like Red Hook and not have to involve the community,” said community board member Elizabeth Shipley, who encouraged other members to oppose the plan.

The vote came just a day after residents launched a petition to delay the school’s construction. It had collected more than 100 signatures by Wednesday.

The Board of Standards and Appeals will hold a public hearing on the application before making its decision.

CEO Mark Reford said in a statement Thursday afternoon, "It is unfortunate that members of the community were not persuaded of the benefits that our world-quality, stem focused, liberal arts program will bring to Red Hook and Brooklyn. We have always worked well with our local communities and we are committed to continue working diligently to show to the community the benefits and resources we will bring as the approval process proceeds."

Red Hook first learned of the private school after a CB6 meeting on Nov. 14, where the landmarks and land use committee conditionally approved the plan.

But other members called the proposal “disingenuous” since Basis did not properly publicize their plans in Red Hook and left out residents of Brooklyn’s largest housing development.

Several board members echoed concerns about the school.

“This is nothing but a façade,” said board member Roger Rigolli. “It wasn’t giving the people the right to express their opinions.”

As requested by the committee, Basis submitted a letter promising CB6 that the school would not turn into a charter, they would work with local authorities to resolve transportation and traffic problems, earmark scholarships for Red Hook children and also create a community advisory committee.

But residents were skeptical of the company’s promises, which they said lacked concrete details and an entity to hold them accountable. 

The proposed rezoning of 556 Columbia St. – currently an empty lot – from an industrial business zone to one that would allow construction and operation of a school angered locals who thought it could take potential jobs away from Red Hook.

Lillie Marshall, president of the tenants' association for Red Hook Houses West, vehemently opposed the school and said she felt victorious after CB6’s decision.

“We don’t need this in the community,” said Marshall. “Where does this school fit?”