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City Agrees to Move Schools' 'Hazardous' Gas Meter Underground After Outcry

By Emily Frost | April 6, 2016 7:02pm
 Photos showing the outside of the P.S. 145 and West Prep Academy building on West 105th Street. The picture at left shows where the gas meter regulator was slated to go under the original plan.
Photos showing the outside of the P.S. 145 and West Prep Academy building on West 105th Street. The picture at left shows where the gas meter regulator was slated to go under the original plan.
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P.S. 145/West Prep Academy (at left); Nan Mead

UPPER WEST SIDE — Parents, teachers and the principals from two local schools that share a building successfully fought plans to permanently install a large mechanical structure in front of their entrance, persuading the city to place it partially underground instead, they said.

The communities at P.S. 145/The Bloomingdale School and West Prep Academy organized a campaign to prevent the placement of a large gas meter regulator in front of the school building's entrance on West 105th Street.

The regulator, which is part of a new boiler system being installed in the school, would be an eyesore in front of the building and pose health hazards due to potential gas leaks, West Prep Academy Principal Carland Washington said. 

 Mark Levine met with the PA of P.S. 145 on March 31 to talk about alternate placement of the proposed gas meter regulator, which parents feared would create an eyesore in front of the school.
Mark Levine met with the PA of P.S. 145 on March 31 to talk about alternate placement of the proposed gas meter regulator, which parents feared would create an eyesore in front of the school.
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Tyrone Stevens

When the School Construction Authority, the arm of the Department of Education that manages building projects, announced about a month ago it would place the structure right outside the front offices of the school building, Washington said he rejected the idea outright.

The regulator would require the windows in the front offices to always be closed to prevent gas from seeping in, Washington said he was told.

"I said absolutely not. We’re not going to build this structure," the principal noted.

Nan Mead, a member of Community Education Council 3 who serves as a liaison to P.S. 145, said the school already dealt with the construction of a new boiler room connected to the regulator.

"The street the school is on is lined with these very nice flowering trees, and then there's this hideous construction site going on," she wrote in an email. "Even when that is cleared the gas meter will be an eyesore, which makes it tough for a school that is looking to attract new families."

Parents also worried that placing the regulator in front of the building would make it too accessible from the street, leaving open "the possibility of tampering and siphoning of gas," Mead added.  

So, the two schools joined forces to push back against the plan, Washington explained. 

A West Prep teacher had her sixth-grade class launch a letter-writing campaign, reaching out to City Councilman Mark Levine to enlist his help.

The two schools sent out an email blast last week to families, elected officials and other community leaders urging them to help fight the project, which they said would create "a potentially hazardous situation for the over 600 daily occupants of this building." 

Levine responded by brokering a meeting between school leaders, the School Construction Authority and Con Edison, the company that would be doing the work, a spokesman from his office said.

As of this week, a solution was reached to obscure the regulator by placing part of it underground, Con Edison spokesman Alfonso Quiroz said. 

"The only requirement is that it be outside and that it is vented. The rest is really up to [the schools]," he said.

The schools can decide to put as much of the regulator — which at most would stand 4-and-a-half feet tall — underground as they wish, as long as there's room for ventilation, Quiroz continued. Because of the ventilation requirement, it can't be buried completely, he said. 

A DOE spokeswoman confirmed the regulator would be placed out of sight in a pit below street grade.  

Also, there's no requirement that the offices closest to the regulator keep their windows shut,  Quiroz and the DOE spokeswoman added.

"We see it as a major victory!" P.S. 145 PA President Yassiel Nieves said in an email of the compromise. 

Nieves said the parties involved agreed this week that the regulator could go in front of the building, with no more than 2 feet reaching above ground.

The Department of Education's goal is to make the regulator as unobtrusive as possible, a DOE spokeswoman said.

“I am pleased after we were able to bring all the parties together, Con Ed and SCA worked out a solution that will avoid obstructing any windows and will allow for the speedy removal of the massive and ugly temporary gas structure that currently blocks much of the school’s façade,” Levine said.

The temporary boiler — from which parents reported smelling gas— will be taken down sometime this summer, his office said. That timing has not been finalized yet, the DOE spokeswoman added.

The principal of P.S. 145 did not respond to requests for comment.

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