Booster: Put school in new park

The Brooklyn Paper
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A prominent advocate of plans to build Brooklyn Bridge Park would like to see a middle school added to the 1.3-mile waterfront development.

Marianna Koval, executive director of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy, said this week that many park advocates have discussed with enthusiasm the idea for a school that could serve Brooklyn Heights, DUMBO, Vinegar Hill and Cobble Hill.

“One of the things that people are very interested in doing is putting a middle school in the middle of the park and creating a community and education center,” said Koval.

A feature that was removed in the recently unveiled redrawn park plans — an educational or visitor’s center — could be somewhat satisfied by the building of a school to “address a very strongly felt need,” Koval said, for better intermediate schooling options in the neighborhoods through which the park would run.

“I think there are a number of people who feel it would be a great idea to activate the middle of the park in a very public way, and create an opportunity for middle school children to have a direct hands-on experience to have a wildlife habitat,” said Koval.

Nancy Webster, president of the DUMBO Neighborhood Association and a parent of a student at PS 8 in Brooklyn Heights, agreed, and said the school could serve as a means to incorporating the needs of both the community and the park.

“Our son’s in kindergarten, he’s doing OK,” she said but “five years down the line it might not be the same.

“With a PS 8 choice, people aren’t thinking about the suburbs for their children. People are going to start thinking about the ‘burbs if we don’t solve the middle school problem,” Webster said.

Additionally, she said, it might mitigate some concerns being brought to planners that the park as currently envisioned is doomed to seasonal uses instead of year-round.

“The school could bring activity and eyes on the park in the exact seasons when the park is least likely to be used and most likely to have a sort of empty feeling,” said Webster.

As currently proposed, the park, stretching from just past the Manhattan Bridge to Pier 6 at Atlantic Avenue, would consist of largely green space and water paths in the middle with a hotel and four high-rise co-op or condominium apartment buildings at either end, one at Atlantic Avenue rising more than 30 stories.

Councilman Bill DeBlasio, who along with fellow council members Letitia James, David Yassky and Sara Gonzalez wrote a letter urging Schools Chancellor Joel Klein to re-examine the needs of parents in District 15, said he’d heard of the park plan, and while there was interest, it was all very preliminary.

“Council member DeBlasio has had informal conversations with members of the community about locating a public school in the park,” said DeBlasio’s chief of staff, Peter Hatch. “He supports including elements that democratize the park, so he believes this idea is worthy of exploration.”

Inquiries about the school idea to the Empire State Development Corporation, which oversees the BBPDC, were not answered by press time.

But some local residents aren’t so sure about bringing a school full of children to the waterfront park, housing and commercial development.

“Good middle schools are not convenient to get to,” said Judy Stanton, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association, who cited JHS 113, on Adelphi Street in Fort Greene, as the closest school she could think of, but said she didn’t know how welcomed a waterfront school would really be.

Although the BHA is actively pursuing a location where PS 8 could be expanded to include a middle school program, she said nobody has given the park idea their blessing.

“We’re just going to look around somewhere in the neighborhood for a middle school — nobody in the BHA has blessed the idea of [a school in] the park. That’s because it hasn’t gotten far enough; and I don’t know that it will,” said Stanton.

“Everybody who’s committed to public schools and is a parent at PS 8 would like to see a school nearby,” she admitted, but said she personally would hate to sacrifice park space for that.

“I don’t see why they don’t look at one of the new apartment buildings that’s going up in DUMBO,” she said. “Please look at that model before taking up park land.”

Webster agreed. “Obviously there are concerns over where it would be, and contributing any more to the built environment,” she said, but added, “It did seem like having the school incorporated would present some interesting possibilities about the park.”

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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