The city extended an olive branch to critics of a plan to build a new school for P.S. 133, but residents were unmoved and said that officials are “not sincere at all.”
“They’re not listening. They’re not sincere at all. They have public hearings and we say things but we don’t feel like our voices are being heard,” Baltic Street resident Reiko Tahara asserted at a Community Board 6 committee meeting this week.
Residents say the city’s plan to construct a new — and larger — building for P.S. 133, 375 Butler Street, would bring rats, trucks and construction problems to the area. The new building would hold 900 students, which is triple the size of P.S. 133’s current student body. That means more trash and school buses, residents say.
Kenrick Ou, director of real estate services for the School Construction Authority (SCA), argued that the city is listening to residents. That’s why it proposed decreasing the construction period from four years to three. To facilitate this, P.S. 133’s students and staff would temporarily relocate to the St. Thomas Aquinas School building at Fourth Avenue and Eighth Street.
While Baltic Street resident Annette Hall acknowledged, “That helps,” she insisted that the issue is not how long construction would last, but what would be done to ensure that nearby homes are not affected. Workers will remove a layer of contaminants, including lead, which have been found in the ground.
“I’m really concerned about the integrity of my foundation,” she said.
Hall, and several other residents in attendance at the CB6 meeting, accused the SCA of disregarding homeowners’ concerns.
“They are not concerned about strengthening the homes. They are not concerned about the environmental safety of residents,” Hall said.
She recalled a scene a few years ago when the Berkeley Carroll School was constructing an additional building.
“The homeowners directly to the left of the building – their foundation was compromised and they had to move out,” Hall said. “I’m worried about that.”
Another problem has been the lack of communication between residents and the SCA.
Locals claim that the SCA and its hired contractors did not approach them prior to digging for soil samples or announcing plans for the new school.
“Not one person has come to me. I live directly adjacent to the school,” Hall said. “They should be embarrassed by the lack of communication.”
“So far, you’re not doing a great job in terms of notification,” said S.J. Avery, who lives on Butler Street.
She said neighbors’ lawns were damaged recently when the SCA took soil samples.
“There was no notification letter” about this work, Avery said. “Half the street was blocked off. It was very loud and kind of scary.”
Samples were also taken from the Baltic Street community garden located in P.S. 133’s schoolyard.
“They just burst into the garden without so much as a phone call or e−mail,” said Julie Claire, a member of the garden. “If that’s their integrity, I’m truly concerned for the project when hazardous materials are transported somewhere.”
During construction, “SCA will have personnel on site who are responsible for managing the site,” Ou said.
He credited the minimal communication with residents to the SCA’s staffing limitations.
“There is no excuse for the lack of notification but there was a vacancy within our project support position,” he said. “That vacancy has been filled.”
Ou said the SCA is “committed” to working with residents throughout the construction phase, but admitted, “It’s not going to be unintrusive. It’s not possible.”