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Shadow Studies

A Tribeca school fights developers for its place in the sun; kids “perform better” in natural light.

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Tribeca’s BoBo parents aren’t about to let their kids’ intellectual development be stunted by a lack of sunlight. So when developer Edward Minskoff announced plans for a nineteen-story tower just south of P.S. 234, the coveted three-story brick schoolhouse on Greenwich, they fought back. City Councilman Alan Gerson got Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff to make the developer commission a “shadow study” indicating “no negative impacts” on P.S. 234’s classrooms. They’re “delightfully sunny,” explains principal Sandy Bridges.

Though shadow studies are occasionally launched in response to community pressure (Woody Allen–led shadow protests have stymied developers in Carnegie Hill), Minskoff Equities CFO Ben McGrath says, “99 percent are concerned with the impact on open space,” not a building.

“It was a lot of work to produce this study,” he adds. Not to mention to redesign the building after calculating how the sun’s angles would strike the school hour-by-hour on March 21 and September 21—the midpoints between high summer and low winter. Using this as a guide, Minskoff added setbacks, allowing light to reach the classrooms during most of the school day.

The solar coup is state-of-the-art education theory. “Schoolchildren perform better in buildings with diffuse daylight,” says architect Lisa Heschong, who has studied the effects of natural light on 9,000 students.

Still, P.S. 234 isn’t out of the shade yet. With Minskoff’s building currently in the approval process, developer Scott Resnick recently broke ground for a nearby 300-foot tower. Bridges seems resigned. “Tribeca,” she says, and sighs. “I remember when it was like an empty field of heather.”


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