It’s no secret that the city needs more classrooms, especially in neighborhoods full of new construction like Tribeca and the Upper West Side. This week, Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer released a new report saying the situation looks graver than ever: In the first eight months of this year, permits for around 6,600 new apartments were filed, which could add 1,100 students to the already packed system. Advocates have implored city officials to work with developers to find a solution. This spring, the Rudin family, in its plans to redevelop St. Vincent’s hospital, announced a deal with the Department of Education’s School Construction Authority to transform six floors of the former New York Foundling Hospital into a school. Sheldon Solow’s project on the East River in the Thirties will now incorporate a school as well. NYU, often battling with locals over construction projects, hinted that its remade Silver Towers site could include one, too.
Positive news, right? Maybe. “It all depends upon the circumstances,” says Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. “Sometimes a school ends up as a bargaining chip, and it should never be. It should be something the city and state should be taking care of.” He says a developer’s offer to include a school may be goodwill, or simply political maneuvering. “We shouldn’t pit preservation against education,” notes Stringer, who allows that “a school itself isn’t always enough to make a bad project good.” But if developers already understand the need, he says, more attention can be paid to concerns like affordable housing and conservation. “The community can end up with a project that serves it holistically,” says Mary Silver, a parent at P.S. 116 in Murray Hill who is relieved to see Solow’s plan. But Julie Mallin, an Upper West Sider who co-chairs the political-action committee at the packed P.S. 199, cautions that donating square footage or offering to lease it at market rates isn’t enough. “The devil is in the details,” she says. “Space without facilities, space without a plan, doesn’t work.”