The Upper West Side can look forward to a brand-new elementary school in the neighborhood. While there are still many unanswered questions about how it will operate, the Community Board has given its final official approval for the school that will be built in Extell’s Riverside Center development.
The new school, which will be called P.S. 342/Riverside Center School, will be located on the corner of West 61st Street and West End Avenue, in one of the five buildings that are planned to make up the new high-rise development. Riverside Center is the last piece of the Riverside South development puzzle, building out what was once abandoned rail yards into shiny new communities on the Upper West Side. The area bounded by West 61st Street, West End Avenue, West 59th Street and Riverside Boulevard will be home to five residential buildings, with an estimated 2,500 apartments. There will also be 3.4 acres of public open space, retail space, restaurants with outdoor dining, a movie theater and an underground parking garage for residents. The original plans, however, didn’t account for the assured influx of children into the local school system.
Helen Rosenthal, a member of Community Board 7 who was chair at the time when the plans first came before the board, said that when Extell presented their proposal, the community was still smarting from the overcrowding that resulted from the construction of the Trump Tower buildings south of West 72nd Street.
Though the developers had made a deal with the city to offer a piece of land for sale to build a school, the Department of Education determined in 2006 that there was no need for a new school in the district. Meanwhile, Rosenthal said, P.S. 99 was keeping track of the stream of new students coming from those addresses and parents were growing more concerned about overcrowding problems at all the Upper West Side elementary schools.
“We were started to track this big overcrowding at 199 and we knew it was going to hit P.S. 87,” Rosenthal said. “Clearly this was the most important piece of infrastructure that had to come with new development. We had learned our lesson that with many apartments going up, of course there’s a need for a public school.”
The board negotiated with Extell, originally asking for a 150,000-square-foot school. Eventually Extell agreed to construct the “core and shell”—walls, ceilings, electrical and HVAC systems—for a 100,000-square foot school, after they initially pushed back against the cost of providing a school building.
One of the questions that had been lingering was whether or not the School Construction Authority could afford to utilize all 100,000 square feet of the space or if the school would be confined to 85,000 square feet. The Department of Education confirmed in February that it would exercise that option, turning the potential 488 seats into an expanded 600 seats.
The school, which is slated for a parcel of land that Extell is currently selling, is currently expected to open in 2015. Extell Vice President Donna Gargano wrote to state Sen. Tom Duane, in response to his letter expressing local concern that the sale would delay the school, to assure him and his constituents that the school would still go up as scheduled, no matter who owns the land.
“The land use approvals granted to Riverside Center by the City Planning Commission and the City Council require that the school be located in one of the first two of the project’s buildings to be completed,” Gargano wrote. “This obligation, like the other obligations incorporated in these approvals, is binding on all successor owners of any portion of the Riverside Center site, including any purchaser as a result of the current offering.”
The school is planned for three sections, with two pre-kindergarten classes, but there is no decision as of yet as to how it will be filled—whether it will be a zoned or district school, and what kinds of programming it will adopt, are now under the purview of the Community Education Council and the Department of Education.
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