Local Community Fights School Expansion

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Residents of West 92nd and 93rd Streets are battling a proposed development by Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School

By Beth Mellow

Community Board 7 Manhattan, Upper West Side residents, and representatives for Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School convened on March 20th to continue the heated debate over a proposed expansion of the school's building at 36 West 93rd Street. In the midst of residents' concerns over increased traffic, possible pollution, and blockage of sunlight, the school and their appointed architectural firm, Gruzen Samton, are working to allay doubts and secure support as they get ready to present their application to the Board of Standards and Appeals later this spring.

Howard Weiss, a representative for Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School, explained that the purpose of the add-ons was to consolidate their junior high school students in one building. Currently students in fifth and sixth grade occupy the facility with the high school students, while seventh and eighth grade students attend class elsewhere.

The planned expansion would add two stories to the West 93rd Street side of the building and build out an existing set back area on the West 92nd Street side, adding about 12,000 square feet to the facility. Based on feedback received at last month's meeting, Gruzen Samton has tweaked some of the build out plans. This includes reduced storage space for the building to minimize shadowing, and a rooftop garden on the West 92nd Street side to add visual appeal for neighbors with windows facing down on the building.

One attendee commented, "Greenery doesn't make much of a difference when you are putting a building in our space."

Other residents of West 92nd and 93rd Streets at the meeting agreed. Alison Murphy, who lives on West 92nd and anticipates that her view will be affected by the proposed construction, said, "They are expanding at the expense of the neighborhood."

While sunlight and impeded views are among the chief concerns of residents attending the meeting, others living in the neighborhood worry about the increased traffic and noise. Weiss stated that even with more space, the school only expects to add ten more students per grade. However, Dr. Bertha Bauer, who lives on West 93rd Street, anticipates student body growth will be higher, which will add to already-existing traffic issues caused by vehicle drop-offs and pick-ups each morning and afternoon.

Bauer said, "Traffic and noise pollution around the school has continued to increase over the past ten years. It's a worrisome situation for children that are crossing and ambulances trying to pass by. With additional students coming to and from the school, the situation is only going to get worse." Bauer also claims that she has video of an incident where school traffic blocked an ambulance for nearly seven minutes.

In an effort to fight the proposed construction, Bauer and her neighbors in the affected areas formed the West Side Partnership for Responsible Development. The group, which originated late last year, has grown to more than 100 members, including six pro-bono lawyers and one lawyer on retainer. Bauer, who is treasurer for the organization, said, "We're going to fight this to the very end."

Community Board 7 will vote on whether to support the application for enlargement on April 3rd; however they can only act in an advisory capacity, offering the Board of Standards and Appeals feedback to consider. The Board of Standards and Appeals will make a decision on the application within the next few months.

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