DOE Increases Spots at Soon to Be Opened Downtown School

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By Lillian Rizzo

Lower Manhattan's Peck Slip School has been given an additional number of seats for students, and it hasn't even opened its doors yet.

The news came yesterday as advocates such as the Community Education Council, Community Board 1 and Assemblyman Sheldon Silver pushed for a solution to overcrowded schools in the Downtown area.

There will be 20,000 square feet added, or two floors built on top of the Peck Slip building, which will add 180 seats for prospective students. This will bring the total number of spots to 656. Previously, there were only 476 planned for the new school.

According to the DOE, this plan will cost an extra $9 million, which will be paid for by shifting funds within the existing capital plan for 2010?2014. The expansion will also include a gym, which Silver pointed out.

"I am thrilled that the parents of Lower Manhattan will have this expanded, state-of-the-art new school," Silver said in a statement. "I have been advocating tirelessly for more classroom seats to serve our growing population Downtown, and this expansion of the Peck Slip site is a huge win for our community and for our Lower Manhattan children."

The DOE noted that there is an additional 20,000 feet in the Peck Slip building currently in use by the U.S. Postal Service. The USPS has yet to say if it will give this space to the Peck Slip School, but has indicated it is a possibility. The news of Peck Slip's expansion came as an amendment to the 2010?2014 capital plan.

Currently, the Tweed Courthouse at 52 Chambers St., the DOE's headquarters in Manhattan, is serving as the school's incubation site-meaning classes are being held there until 2014. Hovitz questioned how these classrooms would accommodate this increase in size. "Is there really enough room at Tweed to incubate this sizable school?" Hovitz said.

Not only does the question of Tweed's space come into play, there could still be the possibility that this expansion of Peck Slip won't be enough to provide seats for Downtown's growing population.

The opening of Peck Slip is highly anticipated in order to relieve pressure at other local schools such as P.S. 234 and P.S. 89. For the past few years, these schools have seen longer waitlists for their kindergartens and larger classroom sizes as the population in Downtown neighborhoods increases.

"We were very happy to get those seats, I think it's great for Downtown and Downtown school kids," said Eric Greenleaf, professor at NYU's Stern School of Business. "We're very appreciative to the DOE, but at the same time we need a lot more seats."

Greenleaf, formerly a parent on P.S. 234's PTA and member of the CEC, has calculated the number of students that will be entering kindergarten by 2015. According to his numbers, Downtown schools will need room for over 1,200 kindergartners in the next four to five years.

Although he has predicted that even before Peck Slip opens it will have a waitlist, he remains optimistic about the latest announcement.

"It's more than a small dent because it makes a huge difference; 180 seats is a lot," he said.

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