UPPER WEST SIDE — The local Community Education Council agreed on a plan for the future use of Beacon High School Wednesday night — but blasted the city after learning there was no money budgeted for necessary structural improvements.
The council is calling for a new school to serve grades six through 12, with both middle school and high school assistant principals, as well as a head principal overseeing the entire school.
"This resolution is great news for parents from Lincoln Center to the Apollo Theater, and its unanimous passage by CEC 3 is evidence to that fact," said council president Joe Fiordaliso. "This agreement represents a new day and a new path forward for District 3, and is nothing short of historic.”
The current high school is moving to Hell's Kitchen in fall 2015, leaving the space open for new iterations. The CEC weighed in on the project for the West 60th Street space after the DOE asked for their input in October 2011.
The new school should be non-specialized but "have a thematic focus on Urban Studies that taps into New York City's environmental, cultural and intellectual resources," the resolution stated.
The "strong general education core curriculum" would make room for special-education and English language learner (ELL) students, as well as offering an advanced Regents degree for attendees, according to the resolution.
The council wanted to ensure the school felt welcoming to students, despite it being located in the southern end of the district. The resolution states that students entering sixth grade will be drawn from all elementary schools throughout the district, ensuring the school "reflects the economic, social and racial diversity" of the neighborhood.
The middle school admissions policy also gives priority to District 3 students and is based on a student's "portfolio," previoulsy described as things like writing, attendance and grades, rather than test scores.
During several walkthroughs of the school, the CEC and other community leaders found the space in need of a variety of upgrades to make it ready for middle schoolers, members said.
In particular, they found the cafeteria and gym too small, and called for an outdoor recess area to serve the middle school population. The council also asked for renovations to make the school handicapped accessible, as well as an auditorium space that has both a stage and audience seating, which currently does not exist in the building.
But Michael Mirisola of the DOE's School Construction Authority, which is in charge of creating schools in new or old buildings, said these improvements were unlikely.
"As far as outdoor space, I don’t see it coming. And I don’t see how an auditorium could go into that space," Mirisola told parents and CEC members Wednesday night.
"I believe what you’re talking about is what you want to see… and we would love to give you what you want... we just don’t have those funds," he added.
Furthermore, the current lease, whose renewal is under negotiation, expires in 2020 and the DOE cannot legally make capital improvements without a lease longer than seven years, Mirisola said.
Even if improvements were legally possible, the SCA isn't planning on making any as it views Beacon as a functioning school and has limited funding to spread throughout the whole city, he explained.
"This is a functioning school. It can function tomorrow as a middle school," he said. "It is viable now."
But parents fought back against that characterization.
"With no recess, without the gymnasium and without the outdoor space, I’m concerned that parents wouldn’t even want to send their children there," parent Rebecca Singer said.
CEC members and parents were frustrated by what they called the lack of forward thinking by the DOE in terms of what improvements would be needed to make the school ready for new students by 2015.
"It’s no secret that Beacon wanted to be used as a middle school," said CEC member Theresa Hammonds. "How is that these discussions have not happened yet?"
But Mirisola said again that these improvements were "wants" and not "needs," adding, "why would we research something we don’t plan to do?"
Only after the school is vacated and the new lease is signed will the SCA evaluate what changes needed to be made, Mirisola said, noting they would probably not include major ones.
"That is way, way too late for SCA to be evaluating what the needs of the space are — when Beacon is vacated in June and we’re talking about moving kids in in September," said parent Marcy Drogin. "It is so upsetting that SCA is not evaluating those needs."
The CEC vowed to fight for changes to the building it believes are needed for the 10-18 age range in students.
"I think it’s safe to say that our elected officials will be coming to you…[to express] that a significant level of capital improvement is needed in that space," Fiordaliso said.