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Luxury condos sink new schools - Some blame lack of more classrooms on housing boom

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Brooklyn’s building boom is standing in the way of the city’s plan to open more schools. So said a rep for the School Construction Authority (SCA) as he explained the process of building new schools to parents. Fred Maley, the SCA’s community relations manager, told attendees at a meeting of District 22’s Community Education Council (CEC) that the city was forced to abandon some school construction projects because it lacked sufficient funding. He said that’s because construction companies are in such demand to build new condos and homes that they are asking for inflated fees to build new schools, which the city simply can’t afford. “We had to reevaluate some of the projects,” Maley said. “If they were too much over our estimate, we couldn’t move forward.” As a result, “There are new schools coming but there are not as many as we would have liked,” he continued. Maley noted that the $13.1 billion in city and state funding that is being used to build new schools and pay for repairs to existing ones can’t cover all necessary construction projects. “It sounds like a lot,” he said of the billions “but when there’s 1,400 schools in New York City, there’s not enough to go around.” When deciding where to build new schools, the SCA and city Department of Education (DOE) are also taking into account projections about population changes in the five boroughs. Officials believe that the number of school-aged children in the city “peaked” two years ago and will now start to decline, meaning that the city can build fewer new schools than what was originally deemed necessary. “It’s based on population trends that we project out,” Maley said of decisions about where to build new schools. “There will not be as many new schools needed as was projected two years ago.” But that assertion was surprising to locals at the CEC meeting who said the borough’s housing boom and the Atlantic Yards project should increase Brooklyn’s population. “That does seem to defy logic,” said CEC President Christopher Spinelli. “They’re knocking down one-family houses and putting up condos…I don’t know that we’re going to have less students as we go forward.” Maley said that the expected decline in the number of city schoolchildren could be attributed to baby boomer’s kids going off to college. In District 22, four new schools are planned. Three of the schools are already under construction. They are a new home for P.S. 245, 2222 Church Avenue, at Holy Innocents School on East 17th Street, the conversion of Our Lady of Refuge School’s Ocean Avenue building into a public school, and the expansion of P.S. 207 from 4011 Fillmore Avenue to St. Thomas Aquinas School, 1501 Hendrickson Street. According to the latest amendment of the capital plan, which is located online at source.nycsca.org/pdf/11_06_plan_amendment_comprehensive_region_base.pdf, these three projects will create 944 classroom seats in District 22. The fourth new school, which the SCA is currently scouting a location for, will offer an additional 316 seats. With cash tight, the DOE and SCA are going into schools to examine their conditions and determine what repair projects are necessary. They are rated on a scale of one to five – the higher the number, the more vital the project. Maley noted that it is important for principals to accompany officials on tours of their schools, as they could lobby for repairs to receive high ratings. “The principal could persuade an architect to make something that should be a three or a four into a five,” he said. As outlined in the capital plan’s latest amendment, many District 22 schools are slated to receive repairs and upgrades. The parking lot for P.S. 217, 1100 Newkirk Avenue, will be converted into a playground. A walk-in freezer will be installed at I.S. 78, 1420 East 68th Street. Receiving telephone and intercom systems will be P.S. 251 at 1037 East 54th Street, I.S. 278 at 1925 Stuart Street, and P.S. 326 at 1800 Utica Avenue. And I.S. 278 will get surveillance cameras. In the entire district, “17 of the 39 schools will receive capital improvement projects,” Maley said.

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