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December 3, 2013- By Steven E. Greer MD
Some of State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s proudest accomplishments are the new schools that he takes credit for building. He even has a School Overcrowding Task Force that is finding ways to bring more schools to the rapidly growing residential population of Downtown. Yet every year, parents in Downtown are forced to be added to a waitlist for their 4-year-olds, hoping and praying that something happens to allow them to go to school near their homes, rather than be bused to Midtown.
What’s going wrong? Is Speaker Silver inept and not as powerful as once thought? Or, is Sheldon Silver merely giving lip-service to school overcrowding, while simultaneously actually fighting on behalf of real estate moguls who want to build new 700-feet-high apartment buildings without schools?
A spokesperson for Mr. Silver commented, “Assemblyman Silver is extremely proud of his record in getting new schools built for our growing lower Manhattan population.
- He personally negotiated and convinced a developer to put the Spruce Street School into the base of their 8 Spruce Street tower designed by Frank Gehry.
- He convinced the Battery Park City Authority to build PS 276 on a site designated for a museum by the Pataki Administration.
- He worked with Senator Schumer to convince the U.S. Postal Service to sell the Peck Slip Post Office building to the School Construction Authority to build the Peck Slip School scheduled to open in 2015.
- And just last week, the continuing work of his School Overcrowding Task Force resulted in preliminary funding for two new schools for Lower Manhattan. In all likelihood, Speaker Silver and his Task Force will also find the sites for these additional schools.
The Speaker has done extraordinarily well in bringing new school seats to our community and will continue to lead this effort for Lower Manhattan.”.
After that comment was given to BatteryPark.TV, a bombshell was dropped by the city Department of Education. Downtown will only receive one new school, not two. The singular school will be a middle school in West SoHo, also known as Hudson Square, to relieve pressure on nearby PS 234.
The elected officials and heads of the CB1 claimed to have been blindsided. Mr. Silver stated, “We believe those seats belong in Battery Park City and the Financial District and we will press that point very, very strenuously…that’s what we want those seats to represent. If we can get a thousand seats down here,” he added, “it will go a long way towards alleviating the problem.”
Sheldon Silver’s Overcrowding Task Force will discuss the issue today, December 3rd. The location of the meeting is at 250 Broadway, 23rd floor, at 4:00 PM.
Regarding the surprise change in plans by the City DOE to shortchange Downtown a promised school, did the city really pull a fast one and trick the powerful office of the State Assembly Speaker by not informing them months ago that only one school would be constructed? Was CB1 Chair Katherine McVay Hughes really clueless as to what the DOE was planning? She is involved in sensitive secret real estate meetings, such as the Liberty Street elevated park at the WTC site, that was kept secret from the public.
Another shocking surprise to Downtown was the recent announcement that the Howard Hughes Corporation will be constructing a 50-story residential tower where the Seaport’s existing Pier 17 stands now. There are no plans to build a school to handle those additional residents. At the November joint session of the CB1, Katherine McVay Hughes claimed ignorance of the plans by Howard Hughes. Paul Goldstein from Speaker Silver’s office was in the audience, but made no comments when Peter Braus asked whether the CB1 should be demanding school space be constructed.
Across the street from Battery Park City (BPC) is the newly started construction project for one of the tallest residential buildings in the city. A 63-story tower is going up at the intersection of West Thames Street and the West Side Highway (50 West Street), by the parking garage. The developer is Francis Greenburger. Those additional residents will pressure the nearby PS 276 and PS 89 schools in BPC. Not a peep was mentioned about this project by the CB1 leaders or the Sheldon Silver Overcrowding Task Force.
Many more examples of new residential towers being constructed Downtown without additional school space can be listed. In June, the LMCC presented a report to the CB1 on the growth in residential units Downtown. Since 2002, there have been 20,000 new apartments built (i.e. “units”). The population has grown by 60,000 people. Dozens of new residential projects have been constructed, with new ones on the way, such 70 Pine Street (750 new units), 116 John Street (418 new units), the new Four Seasons going up at 30 Park Place, and so on.
Despite all of the new residential construction coming soon, Downtown was awarded just one new school near Chelsea. That’s it? Boy, Sheldon Silver’s School Overcrowding Task Force sure seem impotent.
Downtown Manhattan as a whole represents one of the largest concentrations of real estate construction in the world. Tens of billions are being invested by dozens of real estate companies, which all fuels an industry of law firms and construction companies. In turn, they employ armies of lobbyists.
Governor Cuomo is making news today updating the public on his Moreland Commission anti-corruption panel. In the commission’s statements, “Albany’s pay-to-play political culture is greased by a campaign finance system in which large donors set the legislative agenda. Wide-open loopholes allow virtually unlimited contributions through vehicles like limited liability companies and party “housekeeping” accounts. Meanwhile, outside spending groups make unlimited independent expenditures to influence our elections, hiding behind out-of-state dummy corporations to shield their donors in the absence of robust disclosure rules. Our investigation – including testimony taken at public hearings – also reveals that public financing systems, like the one in place in New York City, make a real difference, empowering regular citizens, reducing the power of massive checks and special interests, and increasing the accountability of officials to those they serve.”
Regarding school overcrowding Downtown, it seems that the parents are not “paying enough to play”, as described by the Moreland Commission. No behemoth real estate company wants the burden of building a school to offset their fancy new high-rise towers, and they seem to be getting their way.