On Wednesday evening, members of Community Board 3 will meet one last time before a key vote next week to support or oppose the city’s land use application for the Seward Park Redevelopment Plan. The proposal outlines the redevelopment of nine parcels near the Williamsburg Bridge, creating hundreds of new apartments, dozens of new stores and community facilities. This week’s meeting is a strategy session which will help to determine how hard CB3 will press the city on several issues. Among those topics is the creation of a new public school somewhere on the Seward Park site.
City officials declined to allow for a school in the Seward Park application even though CB3 called for one in its planning guidelines. The Economic Development Corp. (which is leading the development project) consulted with the Education Department, and were told there is neither a need for a new school on the Lower East Side nor the capital funds to construct a school building. The addition of 900 new apartments (which is what the plan allows for) would not lead to overcrowding in the neighborhood’s existing schools, the DOE argued.
In a recent meeting, CB3 leaders said they were working on debunking the Education Department’s assessment. One education activist, Harvey Epstein, said Lower East Side schools already have too many students. He urged the DOE to avoid making the same mistake it made in Tribeca, where the city failed to plan for a huge population boom triggered by new residential construction.
The Seward Park development site is located in two school districts (Districts 1 and District 2). District 2 includes Tribeca, a community that is still struggling with overcrowding even after opening two new schools. Epstein suggested there could be a “soft boundary” between the two districts.
In recent weeks CB3 has been working with District 1’s Community Education Council (CEC) to build a case for a Seward Park school. The CEC argues that the Education Department’s methods of evaluating space needs in district schools are fatally flawed. In 2007 and 2008, they noted, District 1 enrollment grew at a rate of 4.1%, faster than any district in the entire city.
David Quart, Economic Development Corp. VP, has said some of the community space set aside for community facilities could in theory be used for a school. But he added that, at least right now, there’s no way to pay the $50-60 million a new school would cost. On the West Side, parent advocates, working with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, mobilized to make the case for new schools. It remains to be seen if parents on the Lower East Side will launch a similar campaign.
Wednesday night’s meeting takes place at University Settlement, 184 Eldridge Street, at 6:30 p.m.