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New School's Lights Turn Nearby Apartments into 'Times Square,' Locals Say

By Heather Holland | December 19, 2013 10:00am
 The New School's University Center keeps their bright lights on 24 hours a day, residents fume.
The New School University Center
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UNION SQUARE — Residents living across the street from The New School's new University Center say they’re losing sleep because the school keeps its bright lights on 24 hours a day.

The nearly completed 16-story University Center at 14th Street and Fifth Avenue floods surrounding buildings with a light so intense that window blinds do little to keep it out, residents said.

“It is like living in a laboratory or middle of Times Square,” said Jo Ann Tansman, who lives on the sixth floor of The Victoria at 7 E. 14th St., across the street from The New School building.

“Even with the blinds and shades drawn, light pours in. My sleep is interrupted and I am a prisoner — blocking out [light] as if I have no windows as soon as night falls.”

Some residents have installed blackout shades, including longtime Victoria resident Susan Linder, who put them in her bedroom but said she still has to deal with the constant glare in her living room.

“My biggest complaint is that when my sleeplessness gets to me at 2 a.m., being in the living room is like sitting in Times Square,” Linder said.

After receiving angry calls from residents, state Sen. Brad Hoylman and City Councilwoman Rosie Mendez sent a letter to The New School in September urging them them to dim their lights in the evenings. But the school replied that the Department of Buildings required the site to be lit 24 hours a day because it is still under construction.

"We've been dealing with the neighbors for a long time now," said Jane Crotty, a spokeswoman for The New School. "Their issue is with the lights, but this is a construction site that's regulated by the DOB. There's nothing The New School can do — it's all the DOB."

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

While the dormitory on the top eight floors of the University Center, at 65 Fifth Ave., is already open to students and is no longer lit so brightly at night, the bottom eight floors, expected to open at the end of January, are still under construction and are therefore required to have bright lights around the clock, Crotty said.

Once construction is completed, the temporary lights will be swapped out for permanent ones that should be a little dimmer, she said.

Residents from both The Victoria and the neighboring Wedgewood House, at 69 Fifth Ave., said they have contacted The New School directly in the hopes of getting the lights dimmed sooner, to no avail. 

"The New School from the very beginning have ignored their neighbors," Victoria resident Carol Zalben said. "The New School is having an unacceptable negative impact on our neighborhood’s quality of life."

Responding to another concerned resident, Crotty said the construction lights weren't as bright as they seemed.

"The University was designed to be less than 40 percent transparent which is less than other modern buildings being erected in the neighborhood," she said in an email to Tansman, one of the upset Victoria residents.

"There are many energy saving designs incorporated into the building to avoid light being shed from the building. This system shuts off lights in unoccupied spaces and will dim lights when the sun is shining."