By Helen Rosenthal
Three years ago, the Upper West Side public school community raised a ruckus about the shortage of elementary school seats throughout District 3. Well, it’s déjà vu all over again: The Community Education Council’s Middle School Committee ran the numbers and, to no one’s surprise, District 3 needs more middle school seats. We also know that the New York City Department of Education is notoriously terrible at planning when it comes to addressing classroom shortages. So what’s a community to do?
There are two ways to address the public school seat shortages throughout District 3: build new space and tweak the land use review policy.
The solution staring us in the face is to increase the size of the new school that will be built in the Riverside South Center (RSC) complex, P.S./I.S. 342. Including this public school in the first building that goes up at RSC was codified by the City Council in its underlying zoning regulations. They are currently slated to build a 100,000-square-foot K-8 school there, bringing an additional 480 seats.
However, when negotiations began for this site—I was chair of Community Board 7 at the time—the developer initially offered 150,000 square feet of space. The city should now take them up on this original offer.
It’s also critical that the developer and the city move to get that building—and school—built as quickly as possible.
In the long term, however, we need to make changes to the land use review process. CB7 and the city were only able to require the developer to build a new school at RSC because the developer needed a zoning variance and therefore the approval of our Community Board. However, much of the real estate development that is bringing more families to the Upper West Side is built with no variances required and therefore no reviews by the Community Board or the Planning Department.
Going forward, the city needs to create some mechanism through which developments that contribute to population growth help fund the corresponding increases in necessary infrastructure, like schools. This would ensure that as our communities grow, we are able to meet the needs of our residents at the level we deserve.
Helen Rosenthal is a member of Community Board 7 and a candidate for New York City Council.
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