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Major Construction Project at UWS School Complex Leaves Programs in Limbo

By Emily Frost | May 13, 2014 8:52am
 The Joan of Arc complex will undergo construction that will limit the hours the school is open.
The Joan of Arc complex will undergo construction that will limit the hours the school is open.
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DNAinfo/Emily Frost

UPPER WEST SIDE — Parents and education leaders are bracing for a $10 million construction project at the Joan of Arc school complex that will last three years and wreak havoc on after-school and weekend activities, as well as upcoming summer school classes, they said.

The West 93rd Street public school building — which houses two middle schools (M.S. 256 and the Community Action School) and the K-8 Manhattan School for Children — needs an overhaul that will begin in the middle of this summer, DOE spokeswoman Marge Feinberg said. 

The leaky and aging roof is the main focus of the construction, said Community Education Council District 3 member Zoe Foundotos, warning her colleagues at a recent meeting that the construction is "going to be a problem."

"It’s a busy building. There’s a lot going on," she told DNAinfo New York. But, she said, "the work is necessary and everybody knows that."

The School Construction Authority, which is still putting the project out to bid, will need the building closed starting at 6 p.m. on weeknights and closed fully on weekends for three years, Foundotos explained. The building will be closed full-time during the summers when school is not in session, she said.

That means everything from rehearsals and sports games to PTA meetings and even summer school programs will have to be relocated during construction.

"After-school programs provide enrichment opportunities for our kids and keep them off the streets, so I am obviously very concerned about the potential impact on these programs," said CEC 3 President Joe Fiordaliso. 

With the building closed on weekends, the Community Action School will not be able to run its Saturday Academy, which provides extra teacher support and homework help for students, Foundotos said.

PTA meetings and back-to-school nights for the three schools will also have to be moved.

"In middle school [PTA meetings are] really important, because as kids get older parents get less involved, so you try to make it as easy as possible [to meet]," Foundotos said. 

Because the building will be closed for a portion of the summer, the Community Action School's summer school program will also have to find an alternate location, she said. 

Several programs operated by the nonprofit Goddard Riverside Community Center will also be affected by the work, said communications manager Christina McSwain. 

She was under the impression construction would begin in the fall, and had not heard whether this summer's free camp program for middle schoolers would need to move. 

McSwain said the nonprofit is also waiting to hear from the DOE about an alternate location for its middle school after-school programs, which include free Zumba, yoga and basketball sessions that run past 6 p.m. 

For many programs it will be a matter of looking for room elsewhere, Foundotos said. But with space at a premium, especially at neighboring schools, finding alternate locations to host the programs could prove difficult, she noted.

"It is a problem. It is a large school and it houses a lot of programs," acknowledged DOE Superintendent Ilene Altschul at a recent meeting. "I know it's going to inconvenience the community." 

Nonetheless, the project has to move forward, she said. 

"There’s so much leaking and there’s so many problems and there’s never a good time to do it," Altschul added.

Once construction begins, the schools' three principals will meet bi-weekly "to touch base" on the project's progress, she explained. 

The schools will have the help of the Department of Education in locating alternate spaces for activities and they can suggest their own, Altschul said.

There will be exceptions to the new building hours, including for school plays and parent-teacher conferences. But play rehearsal, meetings and other activities, such as use of the gym for games in the Public School Athletic League, which P.S. 256 hosts, will have to find alternative spaces, she said. 

P.S. 256 Principal Candida Frith declined to comment. Principal Claire Lowenstein of Manhattan School for Children and Principal John Curry of Community Action School did not return requests for comment.