PS 133 parents don’t like new kids on the block

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A controversial city plan to tear down a historic schoolhouse on Fourth Avenue in Park Slope and build a new one with triple the capacity just doesn’t add up, neighbors say.

Parents and residents of the block between Baltic and Butler streets have a long list of complaints about the city’s plan to tear down the 108-year-old, 300-seat PS 133 and replace it with a 960-student elementary school — not the least of which is the demolition of the Charles Snyder-designed edifice.

“Tearing down that building would be like a dagger to the heart,” said Butler Street resident S.J. Avery, who claims the school serves as an “anchor” for the community of rowhouses that were built by the city in the 1980s with pitched roofs to match PS 133. “It means that our sense of place and neighborhood is really seriously violated.”

But architecture is just the window-dressing on their castle of complaints.

Neighbors also railed against renderings that depict the new building including two distinct schools with separate entrances: one that would seat about 300 students from within PS 133’s school district 13, which spans Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and Bedford Stuyvesant; and one for about 660 students from the more-affluent, but neighboring, school district 15 that includes Park Slope and Sunset Park.

“What’s very distressing is that the school will have two entrances,” said Avery. “The notion of ‘separate-but-equal’ schools doesn’t sit well.”

Opponents of the new building also scorned the city for plans that would pave over about half of a three-decade-old community garden on the Fourth Avenue side.

But the School Construction Authority stands behind its plan — and has an answer for just about every critique:

• Agency official Kenrick Ou told a Community Board 6 committee last week that in order to provide enough seats for the predicted residential boom on Fourth Avenue, the city must tear down the school and construct a larger building — one so large, in fact, that it would require a zoning override to be built.

“We looked at [an annex],” said Ou. “An addition would actually end up being a larger, [but] less effective structure overall.”

• The school’s agency dismissed questions about combining two school districts under one roof by noting that the proposed project would fill the desperate and growing need of students from district 15, while providing current district 13 students with “a new, state-of-the-art school facility” boasting art and music programs, science labs, and a gymnasium, according to an environmental impact study.

• The agency defended plans to eliminate half of the garden by claiming it needs to pave over part of the greenery to provide “an adequate amount of outdoor recreation space for the student population,” according to the study.

In the end, Ou begged for support.

“I encourage you to try and trust us,” he said. “At the end of the day, we are responsible for, and accountable for, delivering this project in a safe and timely manner.”

If approved by the City Council — which will first hear the issue at a subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime meeting on Tuesday — and the mayor, construction could begin over the summer. During the three-year demolition and construction period, PS 133 would relocate to the former St. Thomas Aquinas School on Fourth Avenue.

Updated 5:13 pm, July 9, 2018: Story was amended to fix an errant caption. Thanks, S.J.
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Reasonable discourse

Frederik Anderson from Fort Greene says:
Residents, please be advised that the school building known as PS 133 is managed and operated by the City of New York, and if the City of New York wants to tear down the existig structure then rebuild it can do it. What is the big deal about separate entrances for students. I do not believe that district 13 children should interact with district 15 children.

Bloomberg for another four years.
June 18, 2009, 9:13 am
parent from Fort Greene says:
I believe that District 13 and District 15 children should interact, and for them not to do so starts to sound like a return to the days of segregation. Think about it: Dist. 13 is 90 % African American, and Dist. 15 is whiter and far more affluent. The thought of two schools within the same building, one far larger and able to command more resources due to a wealthier parent body, starts to sound like a recipe for entrenched racism and resentment. Is this something we want to teach our children?
June 18, 2009, 11:45 am
SJ Avery from Park Slope says:
Ben Meussig's article uses a cheap shot, absolutely false headline (that doesn't reference anything in the article) and starts off with inaccuracies. I've never heard any PS 133 parents say they "don't like the new kids on the block" - and the majority of the District 13 kids are not bussed in - they are from the neighborhood. (Actually, it is the district 15 kids who are likely to be bussed in.) It is true that many of the local residents are concerned about the "separate-but-equal" aspects of the proposed school - District 13 kids will get short shrifted. Since the new "amenities" are shared space, District 13 kids are likely to get a 1 in 3 chance of using them - is it better to be in a new gym every third day - or to be in your older gym every day? Insisting on a design that reinforces perceptions (if not the reality) about the racial and economic make of the two districts is just a bad idea. And weren't we supposed to have done away with the idea of "separate but equal" a long time ago.

The article also fails to mention the troubling issue that the SCA is stonewalling access to information about hazardous soil and water conditions that they raised in the SCA's own Draft Environmental Impact Statement(DEIS).
Residents of the homes immediately adjacent to the proposed construction site reviewed the DEIS and were immediately concerned about statements that the excavated soil would be treated as hazardous waste and references to ground water contamination. They requested copies of the reports referenced in the DIES, but the SCA, after first saying that they would make the documents available, turned around and said that residents would have to file under Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) go get them! SCA has not released them.
The residents also contacted Lenny Siegel, Executive Director of the Center for Public Environmental Oversight, provides technical assistance and training to communities where Brownfields activities are planned or underway; that assistance includes a focus on vapor intrusion, TCE, and other VOC's.

Mr. Siegel has worked on New York City school construction sites in the Bronx and Queens and has collaborated with the SCA. He has also worked on mapping vapor intrusions in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn. He reviewed the Hazardous Material section of the PS 133 DEIS and met with community members earlier this week. Subsequent to that meeting, he sent the following correspondence to community members.

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for Butler School (page 3-77) states: "Tetrachloroethene (PCE) and trichloroethene (TCE) were detected at concentrations exceeding their respective New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) Air Guidance Values (AGVs) in one soil vapor sample.... These compounds are migrating onto the site form an off-site source based on contaminant distribution." On the following page it says, "A sub-slab depressurization system and a vapor barrier would be made part of the new school construction to prevent the potential migration of organic vapors, if any, into the proposed school building."

Such a depressurization system is a necessary, but insufficient consequence of the soil vapor results. As at the Mott Haven Campus (South Bronx) and Info Tech High School (Long Island City), the discovery of a volatile organic compound plume (such as TCE or PCE) under a school site should trigger full characterization, remedy evaluation, remedy implementation, and long-term site management. This should be done before construction, both to protect the building's occupants (students, faculty, and staff) and because construction could interfere with investigation and cleanup. As at the other sites, it should be done under the oversight of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). It is state (DEC and DOH) policy that mitigation (depressurization) is not enough. Cleanup is required at such sites.

If the existing school is retained, it should probably have sub-slab depressurization, and homes to the east of the school may require their own systems. Vapor intrusion is a continuous, completed pathway that increases the risk of cancer and other diseases even at low concentrations.

The SCA won't give residents access to information they have about cancer causing agents in the groundwater around our homes and we are supposed to trust them? I don't think so.
June 18, 2009, 12:39 pm
SJ Avery from Park Slope says:
Psst - the caption under the picture with the story. It's not an addition the SCA wants to build - they want to tear down the building and build a big new box.
June 18, 2009, 1:28 pm
Viable Sunset Park from Sunset Park says:
This is just more of the -endless loop- type of city planning that continues to violate "...our sense of place and neighborhood" in NYC. First, non-contextual over-development is enabled by developer-influenced politicians, followed by projections of yet-to-be-realized population growth, which, in turn, "statistically" support the need for tearing down a beautiful and historical building to make place for an unnecessary and architecturally unsuitable new structure.

We invite you to see how Sunset Park is being torn apart by architecturally unsuitable buildings: 53 St (5/6), 42 St (4/5), 39 St.(5/6), 59 St. (7/8), 60th St.(5/6)- among others. Unfortunately, the proposed Sunset Park re-zoning plan includes many incentives for on-going demolition of architecturally and historically contextual buildings jeopardizing our beautiful row house blocks and the panoramic view from Sunset Park (the park).

Kudos to Avery for speaking up and to Muessig for reporting it.
June 18, 2009, 3:11 pm
A.J. from Bay Ridge says:
Thank Muessig, indeed. That guy is awesome.
June 18, 2009, 10:20 pm
k from slope says:
As a District 13 parent who sends my kids to a school that is technically D. 15, but draws from multiple districts, I say let any new school(s) on this spot cast a similarly wide net. It will decrease the possibility of an ugly class/race divide that is almost certain to result if the scenario implementing separate schools for D. 13 & 15 were to come to fruition.

Many parents I know are desperate for progressive education alternatives in this era of No Test Left Behind. There are very few schools, tho, that fit this bill and those precious few are swamped during admissions times: tours booked solid, waiting lists of dozens. So, why not make this proposed new school (or rehabbed older one) on a progressive model and populate it with children fr multiple districts (or at least 13 & 15)? I think it would serve many constituencies well.
June 19, 2009, 11:38 pm
Rob from Park Slope (D13) says:
District 13 spans not just "Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and Bedford Stuyvesant," but also much of Prospect Heights and a significant part of Park Slope, from Union Street north to Flatbush Avenue ("North Slope").

Even a cursory look at the results of the D15 schools in Park Slope (e.g. PS321, PS107, PS39) as compared with the schools in North Slope and Prospect Heights (e.g. PS282, PS133, PS9) tells the story - the D15 schools perform better on virtually all measures than their D13 counterparts. There are lots of plausible reasons (funding, educational philosophy, donations, parental involvement), but it's pretty clear something is being done "better" in D15 that is resulting in more successful schools, despite the many committed, hard-working teachers and administrators in D13. This is why so many parents in D13 work the system so hard to get their children into D15 schools, which in turn further aggravates D15 overcrowding.

Parents in D13 are desperate for better performing schools and more school choice for our children. The many great teachers in these D13 schools, who are committed to improvement, also deserve better. As others have pointed out, any "two school/one building" option will only make worse class and race divisions in our neighborhood.

The new building, like the current PS133, will be firmly located in D13, and as such ALL educational strategies, philosophies, curriculum, rooms, facilities, teachers, etc. within that building should be made available to D13 students. If D15 comes to the new building, all "best practices" they bring MUST be available to zoned PS133 children and wider District 13. This is an excellent opportunity to create a single school fostered around the values of inclusion, diversity, and progressiveness that addresses both D15 over-crowding and D13 quality/performance.
June 23, 2009, 7:43 pm
M. Dominguez from Park Slope says:
I was saddened to hear that there are plans to raze P.S. 133. I went there during the 50's along with my brother and sisters. We all have very fond memories of living on Baltic St. and going to P.S. 133. The teachers were great and caring. My sister called me crying when she heard about the possibility of razing the school. I always make sure to go by the school when I visit N.Y. and N.J.
June 23, 2009, 11:33 pm
Mark Hutchins from Park Slope says:
"I do not believe that district 13 children should interact with district 15 children."

Wow, did I move to the 1950"s?
June 12, 2011, 8:43 am
Heningham says:
My great-great uncle, Richard Heningham built PS 133, and clearly did a great job.
April 21, 2014, 9:52 pm

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