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Upper West Side Schools May Swap Buildings to Relieve Overcrowding

By Amy Zimmer | June 13, 2016 8:54am
 A rendering of the Riverside Center, a five-tower complex on the Upper West Side.
A rendering of the Riverside Center, a five-tower complex on the Upper West Side.
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Dattner Architects

MANHATTAN — Big changes may be in store for several Upper West Schools — and some parents are already bracing for a fight.

After the recent failed attempts to address overcrowding issues at a popular local elementary school, P.S. 199, by shifting blocks out of its zone, local education leaders have gone back to the drawing board and come up with a plan that would essentially be like a game of musical chairs.

Officials hope to move P.S. 191 — a K-8 school with a tarnished reputation from being labeled “persistently dangerous” by the state — from its existing building on West 61st Street into a space under construction at 21 West End Ave., a residential building planned for the Riverside Center that's set to open in September 2018.

 P.S. 191 on West 61st Street.
P.S. 191 on West 61st Street.
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DNAinfo/Emily Frost

Meanwhile, the principal of P.S. 452 — a small elementary school that opened in 2010 to relieve overcrowding at P.S. 87 and quickly earned a reputation as being one of the best in the area — has voiced interest in moving about 16 blocks down to P.S. 191’s existing building on West 61st Street.

That would allow his school to grow, principal David Parker has said, but many P.S. 452 parents oppose the move since it would erase its school zone. Families now zoned for 452 would fold back into the district, potentially re-igniting the overcrowding issues its creation aimed to relieve.

"As P.S. 452 parents we've worked in concert with our wonderful faculty and staff to create an amazing local school. Moving our school to a new neighborhood is a betrayal to all of us who believed we were building something that would serve our neighborhood for years to come," said Scott Edelstein, who has a second- and a fourth-grader at the school. "It's just plain wrong."

If P.S. 452 leaves its current building on West 77th Street, that opens several options for the area, local education leaders said. These include the possibility of launching a pre-K center for the district there, moving the middle school grades of P.S. 191 there or expanding the Computer School, a middle school that’s already in the building.

There’s broad support from the Department of Education to move P.S. 191 into the new building, which originally was supposed to get a brand-new school, P.S. 432.

It remains to be seen whether P.S. 191 would keep its middle school grades or just run through the elementary years, according to a discussion last month by the Community Education Council’s Zoning Committee.

“Everyone on the community level seems to agree this would be a helpful move for the school to re-brand and bolster its newfound leadership and the transition to a successful school,” said Kim Watkins, who heads the CEC’s zoning committee.

Many have said the struggling P.S. 191 has made big strides since Lauren Keville became principal there in 2014. 

The school unveiled a $900,000 multimedia lab inside its building last year, and it just opened a pop-up library inside its building last week, since it didn't previously have a permanent library.

In the Riverside Center space, it would have state-of-the art classrooms and play spaces.

The options under discussion would also require several zoning changes, some of which would take effect in 2017 and others that would be implemented when the new building opens in 2018, according to May’s CEC discussion.

Local leaders are discussing whether a relocated P.S. 452 would share its new zone with the relocated P.S. 191 or whether to split them into two distinct zones, Watkins noted.

Under either scenario, P.S. 199's zone would get smaller and the school would, perhaps temporarily, see its kindergarten shrink from six to five classes.

“At 141 percent of its capacity, even massive cuts to the zone size won't completely ease the level of anxiety about wait lists,” Watkins said. “This year’s list was much smaller, at 30 kids. But the concern remains.”

Getting consensus on the array of changes won’t be easy, Watkins noted.

“This information is tough to swallow. There are going to be a lot of displaced families in all of this,” she said about the zone shifts. “The question for the Department [of Education] and the CEC: We’ve got to weigh out what we know to be an unfortunate situation for a lot of families — in terms of change that is not wanted — with the needs of the future of the district.”

The CEC is hosting public meetings to discuss these options over the next few weeks, including one Monday night at P.S. 452 and one next Monday, June 20, at P.S. 191, both starting at 6:30 p.m.