Locals opposed to the project shift gears to mitigate its impact on the neighborhood
By Daniel Fitzsimmons
The Chapin School was granted conditional approval on several variances it was seeking in an expansion project that began last year, a setback for those in the community opposed to the project due to concerns over increased traffic congestion in the area and years of disruptive construction noise.
Chapin wants to add three floors, including a glass-encased gym on the top level, to its existing eight-story building at 100 East End Avenue. The other two floors will contain locker rooms and performance art space. The school is also expanding its basement-level cafeteria space, work that occurred in earnest over the summer with night-time construction hours that locals said resulted in no small amount of disruptive noise as well as cable and phone outages.
Chapin officials claim the expansion is necessary to meet the school’s evolving needs but will not result in increased enrollment, which currently stands at around 750. The K-12 all-girls private school is among the most exclusive in New York. Representatives of the school estimate the construction would begin in early 2016 pending approval, and wrap up by the end of 2018.
Yorkville residents are concerned that the bulk of the work will take place in summertime and during non-school and weekend hours so as not to disrupt students during class time.
They’ve also expressed doubt that Chapin won’t eventually seek to increase enrollment, which they claim would lead to further traffic congestion during drop-off and pick-up times as school buses, limousines and SUVs block East End Avenue and 84th Street. Residents also say Chapin’s last expansion, in 2008, was disruptive and is sure to be again this time around.
Community Board 8 rejected Chapin’s application outright in January, citing concerns with the construction schedule, increased traffic congestion and how the building would look upon completion. But the school forged ahead with its application and the conditional approvals, granted by the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals, essentially grants permission for Chapin to move forward with the project as long as it complies with certain requirements.
According to BSA spokesperson Ryan Singer, those requirements include the school having to insulate the construction sidewalk shed to reduce noise emanating from the site, and insuring that workers respect neighbors’ property and restrict debris to the Chapin property.
Another stipulation is that once the expansion is completed, no sound amplification of any kind can be used on the top floor, and that only emergency lighting can be installed on the roof. As such, use of the roof is restricted to the hours between sunrise to sunset only.
The BSA’s decision came as a blow to the Yorkville residents who live adjacent to the school and have mounted a robust opposition to Chapin’s expansion plan, including testifying at BSA hearings and submitting opposition letters to the agency, as well as speaking out against the expansion at CB8 meetings.
But the conditional approval has those residents shifting their focus to finding ways they can limit the disruption caused by the expansion.
“In view of the BSA decision to allow the expansion, we plan to shift gears to fight to obtain restrictions from city agencies on hours of construction and the manner in which the expansion will be carried out,” said Lisa Paule, a Yorkville resident who lives adjacent to Chapin and serves as the de facto spokesperson for the anti-expansion contingent there. “The last Chapin expansion was a major community disruption that reduced the quality of life of nearby residents, and we want to ensure that this expansion will be undertaken with paramount consideration for the neighbors.”
Paule said residents’ number one concern is limiting the amount of construction noise and the hours during which work can occur. The group will be pushing for no evening or overnight construction and for work to only occur on one day out of the weekend, and is currently reaching out to elected officials and city agencies to find out how they can make their requests known.
Chapin spokesperson Daniel White said the school plans to comply with the conditions on its variance approvals.
“Chapin is extremely pleased with the approval and believes that the design of the expansion program has been significantly enhanced as a result of BSA input together with the public comments received throughout the lengthy review process,” the school said in a statement.
The statement went on to say that the school expects to begin work in early 2016, and will host public meetings to share its construction plans and schedule, as well as maintain its existing 24/7 community phone line and email inbox for community concerns.
“As a member of the Upper East Side/Yorkville community for over 80 years, Chapin well understands and is sympathetic to the temporary disruptions to quality-of-life that construction can bring,” said the school in the statement. “The school is committed to taking extensive measures to ensure that its expansion program is carried out in the safest, most responsible and efficient manner, and with as minimal impact to neighbors as possible.”
Paule said Chapin’s desire to spare their students having to endure the effects of construction, but not the surrounding community, is “objectionable.”
“The concept that the public has to suffer through four years of unrelenting noise, traffic, dust, debris and other side effects because of the expansionist aims of a private school that gives nothing back to our community and offers zero public gain is unacceptable,” she said. “We are hopeful our forthcoming efforts will constrain these facets of the Chapin expansion and make it as reasonable an undertaking as possible.”