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Expansion Plans for Collegiate and Trinity Schools Denied by CB7

By Emily Frost | June 19, 2014 5:24pm
 The board did not approve either Collegiate or Trinity School's plans for expansion.
Trinity and Collegiate Expansion Plans
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UPPER WEST SIDE — Two elite local private schools presented expansion proposals to the community board Wednesday night — but both left without the approval they needed to move forward with their plans. 

The Trinity School on West 91st Street came to Community Board 7 seeking a zoning variance to expand its campus, citing overcrowding, a lack of windows and a poor layout that forces students to take indirect routes to classes.

The board's Land Use Committee ruled that the school did not meet the requirements for a variance to build outside the area where it is allowed to legally, even though the application was already submitted to the city's Board of Standards and Appeals on May 30.

The school, which serves 1,000 students and features a mix of landmarked and newer buildings, said it could build a new six-story, 60,000-square-foot addition as-of-right without any city or community review. However, the school wants to build a structure spread horizontally over two stories. 

The proposed building would raise the school's athletic turf by two stories and add a metal safety enclosure above the field. The move would close off part of the patio and two balconies of the adjacent Trinity House, a 200-unit affordable housing building owned by the school.

Trinity House tenants, at least a dozen of whom attended Wednesday's meeting, came out against the plan.

"The [terrace] was meant to be a place for the residents of the building to recreate," argued Trinity House tenant Bill McNally. "They cannot just seize it and convert it for their own use." 

In addition to fears of enduring two years of construction, with the new building planned to open in August 2016, nearby residents groused about the raised turf's interference with their views. 

"In providing light and circulation for your students, you’re depriving other people of the very same things," said Beverly Bergen, a West 92nd Street resident.

More than two-dozen people from the school community, including faculty, parents, and current and former students, pleaded for the proposed update, with one parent calling the current school a "third-world facility."

But board members agreed that the proposal would be too detrimental to the affordable housing tenants at Trinity House, adding that complaints from neighbors about possible rat infestation related to construction had to be worked out first. 

"We look forward to receiving the committee’s resolution and seeing what suggestions, thoughts and recommendations they have," said Kevin Ramsey, director of communications for Trinity School, when asked if it would withdraw the BSA application. "We will continue to work with our design team and our community to ensure the best possible result for Trinity and for our neighbors."

Despite not having to contend with neighbors living next to its proposed new campus, the Collegiate School also did not meet with a favorable response from the board, which refused to approve its plans unless the school presented more details involving more board members in the discussion. 

The West 77th Street boys school is building a new campus in the Riverside South development, on Freedom Place between West 61 and 62nd streets. It is expected to open in the fall of 2017, explained the school's lead architect Tom Gluck of the firm Gluck+.

The parcel Collegiate owns was zoned for a residential building, requiring the school to request a modification from the Department of City Planning, which sent Collegiate to ask the board for approval, Gluck said. 

The zoning for a residential building within Riverside South requires a retail storefront, a facade broken into three distinct sections, and a large stone base, all meant to create uniformity among the new buildings. But none of these requirements are appropriate for a school, Gluck explained.

Collegiate's presentation on its plans left board members anxious for more details.

"It’s astounding to me that you’re coming here for design modification without at least the designs," said Land Use Committee co-chairman Richard Asche. 

At the committee's prompting, the school showed a preliminary design for a nine-story modern building made up of about 40 percent windows, including a sloping terrace leading to a red front door, similar to the door of its current campus. 

Despite pleas from the Collegiate team that it's already short on time if the school is to open by fall 2017, board members decided that they did not have enough information to approve the plans with only a single drawing to work with.

The school plans to get feedback from the board's Education, Transportation, Housing and Parks committees at a follow-up meeting in July.