Monday, June 15, 2009

Not exactly a charter school issue, but related....

This seems to be another symptom of how the city shoves plans through without paying attention to what communities really want. Sound familiar? Remember the meeting we had at PS15 where community members opposed having PAVE stuck in our school, and the DOE decided to go through with it anyway because there wasn't enough (according to them) community opposition to the plan?

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Eric McClure <>
Date: Mon, Jun 15, 2009 at 2:50 PM
Subject: [PSN] PS 133: The City's Troubling Plan for a New Park Slope School
To: PSN Email Updates <>

In This Issue:

PS 133: The City's Troubling Plan for a New Park Slope School

Dear Park Slope Neighbor,

We've written several times in the past three months about the plan being rammed through by the New York City School Construction Authority (SCA) and Department of Education (DOE) to demolish Public School 133, and to replace it with a much larger facility.  We've criticized the process and lack of transparency, and questioned whether demolishing an existing (and historic) building is environmentally sound practice, but we have refrained from taking a position on the overall plan.

Until now.

The more that comes to light about the plan, the worse it appears.  While providing additional seats in District 15, and upgrading the facilities for PS 133 (which is a District 13 school), are laudable goals, the current SCA/DOE plan is rife with problems, and it needs to be sent back to the drawing board.


PS 133, which opened its doors in 1901, was designed by CBJ Snyder, an architect responsible for some 400 New York City public school buildings, some 270 of which are still in use today, and several of which are protected as New York City landmarks.  The Gothic-style, 46,000-square-foot building is located along the east side of 4th Avenue, bordered by Butler and Baltic Streets, in the north Slope.  The building is eligible for both the State and National Registers of Historic Places.  Robert A. M. Stern, Dean of the School of Architecture at Yale, has called Snyder's buildings "among the great glories of our city... people's palaces, not factories for learning... architecture in the service of democracy."

The PS 133 site is also home to a three-decades-old community garden.

Sometime last year, the SCA issued a request for proposals, seeking a developer who would be willing to build a new school as part of a larger mixed-use project on the PS 133 site.  However, the SCA received only one response to the RFP, which they found underwhelming, and that plan was scrapped.

At that juncture, the SCA and DOE apparently decided to move forward on their own.  The first public meeting regarding the SCA's plans to replace PS 133 with a new school occurred on January 22nd,  with scant public notice, and while the school is located in the north end of Park Slope, the meeting has held in Sunset Park, at 4th Avenue and 40th Street.  Park Slope Neighbors first learned of the proposal for a new school around that time, from an activist and resident of Butler Street, who reported that only three PS 133 parents attended that first meeting.

The next public meeting on the plans occurred on March 26th, at a meeting of CB6's Youth, Human Services and Education committee.  The Park Slope Courier covered the meeting, and reported on it here:

Just too big for a school-Critics oppose P.S. 133 growth

SCA apparently provided CB6 with only a one-page site plan, a copy of the "Notice of Filing" for site selection, and a one-page summary of "Alternate Site Analyses" (which said, essentially, that no other site had been considered), in advance of that meeting.

SCA then issued a "Notice of Completion" of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and a Notice of Public Hearing on April 24th, kicking of a public comment period that ended on May 26th.  The required public hearing, however, was not held until May 14th (a Thursday, at 4 p.m., less than ideal for working parents), leaving only 12 days for submission of comments.  Those of you who have ever waded through an Environmental Impact Statement, with their hundreds and hundreds of pages and sometimes-confusing, often-technical language, know how difficult it would be for anyone, let alone otherwise busy neighborhood residents and parents, to respond meaningfully in just 12 days.

Furthermore, only two days after the DEIS hearing, and ten days before the conclusion of the comment period, SCA began conducting test borings at the school site, early on a Saturday morning.  Several residents who live on the blocks adjacent to the school site confirm they received no advance notice about the work.

Other Media Coverage

In addition to the Park Slope Courier story cited above, here are links to other media coverage, which has been limited, as far as we know, to Brownstoner and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

SCA To Build New P.S. 133, Tear Down Old Building

New PS 133 Plans Revealed

PS 133's Most Desperate Hour

Campaign Hopes To Save Century-Old Slope School

And here's a link to the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), which the SCA issued just a little more than two weeks after the conclusion of the comment period, virtually unchanged from the Draft form.  We're not sure why the SCA and DOE are in such a hurry to move forward, but the project was apparently put out to bid before the FEIS was even complete.   Claims that the funding for a new school would disappear if contracts are not assigned by June 30th have been refuted by people with knowledge of the SCA plans.

Community Opposition to the School Plan

Though City Council Member David Yassky, who represents the district in which PS 133 sits, has not taken a concrete position for or against the project, all of the candidates running to replace Council Member Yassky in the 33rd District in the election this fall have voiced opposition to the SCA plan:

Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn, PLANS TO DEMOLISH PS 133 ON FOURTH AVENUE

All of the candidates oppose the demolition off PS 133. Diamondstone attacked the SCA and the way that it "operates in secret with no oversight...Their process is unknown to us, to all of you...the planning of new schools has be be determined by the folks in this room."

The Fifth Avenue Committee, the Park Slope Civic Council, the Historic Districts Council, the Municipal Art Society and a significant number of residents near the school have all taken positions opposing the plan put forth by the SCA.  And Assemblywoman Joan Millman, who represents the district in which PS 133 is located, has written a strongly worded letter to the DOE and SCA, criticizing the lack of outreach to parents and the community and the rush to demolish the historic building.

Why the Current Plan for PS 133 is Unacceptable

The SCA plan for PS 133 is problematic for a number of reasons, just some of which are outlined below.

1) The process has been badly lacking in transparency and openness, and has not provided the community with adequate information or opportunity for input.

Meetings held with little notice, meetings held miles away from the school site, fewer than two weeks between the DEIS public hearing and the close of the comment period -- all of this is cause for concern.

In addition, the SCA has stonewalled residents seeking more information about potentially harmful substances that might be leaching into the PS 133 site.  Residents on May 28th requested copies of several environmental studies that were cited in the EIS; SCA acknowledged the request, said they'd work on it, but did nothing; the residents followed up again, and were told again that the SCA was working on the request, and finally, this past Friday, after 5 p.m., the SCA informed the residents that they would have to file a Freedom of Information Law request for the studies.  This is nothing short of outrageous; if the studies helped form the basis of the EIS, they should be made available readily, not shrouded in secrecy and hidden from public scrutiny by red tape.

2) The PS 133 building is a preservation-worthy example of turn-of-the century New York City school architecture.  Any deterioration to the existing building is the result of city neglect, and rehabilitation should be explored, both for preservation and environmental reasons.

3) The current building plan would uproot, and reduce in size by more than half, a three-decades-old community garden on the site, and would reduce neighborhood open space.

4) The SCA has not seriously considered any alternatives to demolition, nor has it explored alternative sites, while the SCA's own DEIS indicates that there are four public schools near PS 133 (two each in Districts 13 and 15) that have significant extra capacity.

In addition, a reasonable plan put forth by community members suggesting the preservation of the existing building and the building of an annex was ignored by the SCA.

5) The potential effects of the project, including an increase in local traffic, a reduction of open space, significant construction impacts, complications from hazardous materials and numerous other issues have not, of course, received adequate consideration in the DEIS.

Separate but Equal?

Finally, and most troubling of all, is the physical plan for the new building, which would actually house two separate schools under one roof.

As proposed, the SCA's plan would create two starkly disparate schools on the site.  The new PS 133 replacement school, serving District 13, would have about the same number of students that it does currently, between 250 and 300 kids.  District 13 is about 90% non-white, and according to, as of 2007, PS 133 was 97% non-white.  The school has a significant number of disadvantaged students, with the majority eligible for Title 1 funding.

The new District 15 school, on the other hand,  would house about 600 students, and it would be largely white, with a far more affluent socio-economic profile.  The two schools would have entrances on opposite sides of the building, one on Butler, the other on Baltic.

While SCA officials say that the program for the school is years away from being determined, the  blueprint calls for separate buildings-within-a-building.  That problem needs to be rectified now - not in the "programming."

Such a configuration is patently unacceptable.  55 years ago, the Supreme Court put an end to "separate but equal" schooling in its landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision.  Separate is inherently not equal, and cloaking it under the guise of separate school districts is merely subterfuge.  Any school plan for the 133 site must result in a fully integrated school.  It's shocking to us that the plan has progressed this far without being scrapped or attracting greater outcry, and we residents of Park Slope, which prides itself on its progressiveness, need to make sure this plan goes no further.

What You Can Do

First off, please take a minute to sign this petition created by groups opposing the current SCA plan:

Secondly, please contact Council Member David Yassky and urge him to oppose the SCA plan.

Phone: (718) 875-5200

You can also contact the three other Council Members whose districts overlap with School Districts 13 and 15:

Council Member Bill de Blasio
Phone: (718) 854-9791

Council Member Sara Gonzalez
Phone: (718) 439-9012

Council Member Letitia James
Phone: (718) 260-9191

Third, please try to attend the City Council Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting & Maritime Uses (yes, they have oversight of the SCA) hearing scheduled for Tuesday, June 23rd, at 11 a.m., and voice your opposition to the plan.  The hearing will take place in the Committee Room at City Hall, and you can sign up when you get there to speak (testimony will be limited to three minutes per person).

The bottom line is that this rushed, misguided plan needs to go back to the drawing board; parent and community stakeholders need to be brought into the process; and the city needs to conduct a proper and comprehensive analysis of alternatives to demolition of the existing school.  Process and accountability are important, and the prospect of two schools in our neighborhood, united under one roof but divided along racial and socioeconomic lines, should be abhorrent to all of us.


Eric McClure
Campaign Coordinator
Park Slope Neighbors

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"Never underestimate the power of a small, dedicated group of people to change the world; indeed, that is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead

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