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City on Verge of Losing NYU Site That Was Supposed to Become Public School

 NYU 2031's plan would build new buildings in Greenwich Village, possibly including a school on Bleecker Street. 
NYU 2031's plan would build new buildings in Greenwich Village, possibly including a school on Bleecker Street. 
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GREENWICH VILLAGE — A new public school that was promised to the community as part of New York University's massive expansion in Greenwich Village is in danger of being axed.

The Department of Education must commit funding for the seven-story school on Bleecker Street before Dec. 31, 2014 — but so far, the DOE has not even decided whether the neighborhood needs the new school, which means NYU may be able to retake the site, documents show.

The DOE's School Construction Authority did not include money for the school in its most recent 2015-2019 capital plan, noting that funding could be added later "should [a new school in the Village] be determined necessary."

But local parents who advocated for the school say there is clear need for more seats in the neighborhood, and they plan to present a report on that data at the next Community Board 2 meeting.

 The Bleecker Street school would be located at the white block in the upper right of this diagram.
The Bleecker Street school would be located at the white block in the upper right of this diagram.
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"Every empty lot you look at, they’re building new condos. And they’re building family-size apartments, which means more families moving in," said Jeannine Kiely, co-chairwoman of the CB2 schools committee, which is producing the report.

"It would be a shame to be eight years down the road, have no space for building a school, and people saying, 'Well, we could have had a school but we let this option expire in 2014 because we wouldn’t figure it out.'"

The deadline for the DOE to commit to a school was originally supposed to be in 2025, but Councilwoman Margaret Chin moved it up by more than a decade during the City Council's review of NYU's development plan in 2012.

Under the plan Chin negotiated, the SCA must show by the end of this year that the agency has budgeted money to begin construction on the Bleecker Street school by July 1, 2018, which has not yet happened.

Chin said she advocated for the earlier deadline “to make sure this space would start serving the community as soon as possible, rather than allowing NYU to let it sit vacant for up to another decade.”

But now that the 2014 deadline is jeopardizing the school's future, Chin and the DOE are pushing NYU to give the city more time to make a decision about the school, representatives for Chin and the DOE said. Kiely and other parents on CB2's schools committee want the deadline extended, too.

But the university is not budging. 

A top NYU official told Chin in a May 6 letter that the university would not extend the deadline, citing the legal battle over the school's expansion plan, which is still in litigation as the city appeals a lower-court decision blocking parts of the development.

"In light of [pending litigation and appeals], we feel that it is not an appropriate time to undertake to modify the Restrictive Declaration [the document containing the 2014 deadline], and, further, that it may be imprudent to do so," wrote Lynne Brown, vice president of university relations and public affairs at NYU. "Please know that we take seriously any request from your office, but in this instance, we cannot accede to your request."

Asked for a comment about the deadline this week, an NYU spokesman said the university's position in the May letter still stands.

If the SCA misses the Dec. 31 deadline, the site at 130 Bleecker St. — which currently houses a Morton Williams grocery store — will revert back to NYU to use as academic space. NYU would still have to give 25,000 square feet in the building for community use, but it would be far less than the 170,000-square-foot school that is on the table now, documents show.

The new school is imperative for the community, Kiely said, because the three existing schools in the area — P.S. 3, P.S. 41 and P.S. 130 — are all over capacity, according to the city’s Blue Book, which keeps data on schools.

Enrollment data for the current school year is not yet available, but according to 2013-2014 numbers, P.S. 3 was at 111 percent capacity, P.S. 41 was at 124 percent and P.S. 130 was at 104 percent.

While a new 444-seat elementary school is on the way to Hudson Square, even once it opens, schools in the area will still be short by about 980 seats and will be at 126 percent capacity, then-Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer found in a 2012 report.

“The city, through the School Construction Authority, should continue to work with the community to identify new public school spaces and fund other potential spaces, such as the new school proposed at New York University campus, which remains unfunded,” Stringer wrote in 2012.

Two years later, the school remains unfunded.

Kiely and others on the committee are frustrated that the DOE seems willing to give up a chance to secure a completely free school site. The SCA would only have to fund the design and construction of the school, records show.

"The land is free for the DOE — the DOE just needs to build the school," Kiely said. "Where else are you going to get that?

"No one wants to lose an option that’s worth this much money. No one wants to lose an option that’s worth this much, period."

A DOE spokesman said that even though the Bleecker Street school is not in the SCA's current capital plan, the plan can be amended. 

The spokesman would not say if the agency plans to meet the Dec. 31 deadline, but released a general statement saying that the DOE has "proposed $4.4 billion to open tens of thousands of new seats — the majority in our most crowded districts.”