On top of testing, funding, and all the other issues facing public education, urban schools get an extra challenge: construction. In New York, just like every other city, construction happens, and it happens all the time. We’re a vibrant and growing city, and ultimately we are better off for a lot of it. Buildings will be built anywhere and everywhere zoning permits.All that said, how many laws do you think there are that cover construction near a school? When I talked to the children at the school my kids attend, P.S. 163 on the Upper West Side, their guesses ranged from 10 to 10 million. As you’ve probably figured out by now, the actual number off laws on the books protecting schools from adjacent construction is lower.It is exactly zero.
We need to show our elected officials all the way from local offices to City Hall and the State House that they need to pay attention to protecting our kids. We need to show them that passing reasonable restrictions on construction near schools is something they need to do.
Take a look at P.S. 51. The construction so negatively affected their school that they were forced to move from Hell’s Kitchen to the Upper East Side for 2 years. This cost the city millions of dollars and forced the students to be bussed across town, negatively impacting their learning. The school lost 25% enrollment.
This isn’t some NIMBY thing and P.S. 51 isn’t the only example.
Until we work with politicians, and the city and state governments to protect our city’s children and neighborhoods with reasonable laws, schools will continue to be threatened. We need to change this game for every school in the future.
We don’t want to stop construction in the city. We just want to establish a new process so that schools, communities, and neighborhoods can work with developers to create more acceptable outcomes for all. We want our politicians to write common sense legislation that doesn’t stop construction, but better governs how construction can affect surrounding neighborhoods. There are simple fixes that will make the process fare more equitable than it currently is.
On the evenings of May 7th and 8th, the New York State Department of Health with be holding a hearing at my school (PS 163) to discuss the environmental impact of a the potential 3-year process to construct a 20-story building next to our school. A building that would be built on a lead and barium-contaminated parcel of land that has been a parking lot for the last 60 or so years.
This DOH meeting is not a usual meeting. It normally doesn’t happen. It has only happened because a ton of dedicated neighborhood residents who have been fighting for years and the school community has joined them. We’re ahead of the game. Most schools and neighborhoods don’t have this much success fighting threats as serious as this one.
How can you help?
For starters, every city resident just needs to know about what this process is like. You can go to our website to see what the P.S. 163 team has gone through. Educate yourself on what could happen to your school.
Next, help us by contacting your political representatives. We’ve worked with State Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell, Manhattan borough president Gale Brewer, city councilman Mark Levine to name a few. If they are your reps too, call them. Let them know that this building should not go up unless they pay better respect to the neighborhood and the school. Let them know you are concerned.
If they are not your reps, call your local politicians. Let them know that we are fighting this fight, and they should prepare for the same fight when it happens in their district. They can be on the side of developers, or on the side of the kids.
Finally and most importantly, join us if you can. On Thursday morning, May 8th, at 8:10 am, we will be holding a press conference with several politicians in front of the school at 163 w. 97th street. The more people we can have at this meeting, the greater chance we have to do good for the entire city.
Please, if you can, come to the press conference and DOH meetings. Call and write your elected officials. Help us to make sure our situation helps change the process for all communities facing this in the future.