FINANCIAL DISTRICT — The city is building a new, 108-seat pre-K center in Lower Manhattan — inside a building that's also home to a substance abuse treatment center.
The new center at 2 Washington St. will be housed in the same building as Exponents, a voluntary, outpatient facility that treats drug and alcohol abusers as well as ex-convicts transitioning back into life outside of prison and those suffering from HIV or AIDS.
Exponents stirred up controversy downtown last year when the center moved into the high-rise after leaving its longtime home in Chelsea. Residents, as well as a neighboring daycare center, had concerns that Exponents would bring crime and other issues to the area and said the facility did not give proper notification to the community about its relocation.
The Department of Education said the safety of students is of the utmost concern for them and the classes would have an entire floor to themselves in the building, as well as their own entrance.
“As we expand access to free high-quality full-day pre-K to every 4-year-old in New York City, the safety of our students is always our paramount concern,” said DOE spokesman Harry Hartfield.
“Students at this site will have their own separate entrance and their own separate lobby, open only to them, their families and teachers.”
The new pre-K would also have its own address, 17 Battery Place N., when it opens this fall.
Ro Sheffe, the chairman of CB1's Financial District Committee, said the decision to have the pre-K center located in the same location as the treatment center is a “poor idea.”
“We’re very happy to welcome more pre-K into the neighborhood, and that location is great for students — there are so many young children and families in the area — but it remains a terrible location for the treatment center.
“We deeply admire the work the treatment center does,” Sheffe added. “But there are so many other locations in the city that are better suited for them.”
Sheffe said that to his knowledge CB1 has not received any complaints about the treatment center since it opened in January 2014, but that residents “remain deeply concerned” about the facility.
Exponents, which does not dispense any kind of medication and treats about 60 people a day, was located in Chelsea for more than 19 years before making the move. The building at 2 Washington St., which has at least 15 floors, is also home to Nyack College, a Christian College.
Cari Decoons, a local parent who is applying for pre-K for her son, said that if she had the choice, she’d rather not have a school near the treatment center, but added that she has to assume that the DOE is taking the proper precautions.
“We really need pre-K here and if this is the space available, I’d like to hope the DOE is making sure that it's safe,” Decoons said.
The president of Exponents, Howard Josepher, said he understands why the concept of a treatment center near a pre-K would cause concern for parents, but the center is confident there is no issue with the shared building.
"Many of us employed at Exponents are parents and understand concerns regarding the proximity of a Pre-K school to a community based organization like ours," wrote Josepher in an email. "We ask concerned individuals to look at our history; not a single reported incident over the past 15 months we have been located at 2 Washington Street nor a single reported incident over 19 years in the Chelsea community."
"People come to Exponents because they seek the education and skills necessary for a better life," he added. "We have been providing this opportunity for 27 years and take pride in the safety it brings to our community and our neighbors. "
The opening of the pre-K center is one portion of more than 300 new pre-K seats coming to Lower Manhattan this fall.
Tweed Courthouse, the DOE headquarters, will also house 54 students. And the new Peck Slip School, slated to open in the fall, will temporarily hold 180 pre-K seats in the fall. Another center being built at 2 Lafayette Street will house 36 students.
Parents in the area said there’s a deep need for more pre-K seats and they welcome the expansion — but another issue remains a lingering concern with Lower Manhattan parents: Where will all these children go to kindergarten?
In the perpetually overcrowded schools Downtown, residents say they are still waiting for more details about a new elementary school the DOE had promised would be built.
"We're all very happy that there's more pre-K," said Paul Hovitz, co-chair of CB1's youth and education committee. "But we don't really understand how the DOE chooses their locations, or the process by which they make decisions."