The core and shell of a pledge on Bleecker St. school

C.B. 2 Chairperson Terri Cude says N.Y.U. must keep its pledge on creating the space for a new public school on Bleecker St. Photo by Tequila Minsky

BY TERRI CUDE | In March 2010, as New York University was preparing to seek approvals for its overwhelming 2031 Plan, the university made a big announcement.

At a podium in the conference room of then-Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, N.Y.U. Senior Vice President Lynne P. Brown stood with Stringer, some Community Board 2 members, including then-Chairperson Brad Hoylman, me (as co-chairperson of the Community Action Alliance on NYU2031) and top N.Y.U. officials. Brown proudly announced that N.Y.U. would build the core and shell of a public school on the superblocks of Greenwich Village.

Newspapers, including The New York Times, covered this, stating: “Lynne P. Brown, a senior vice president at N.Y.U., said that the university would donate 100,000 square feet of ‘gutted space’ within one of the facilities that N.Y.U. would build. That room could accommodate about 600 students.”

Borough President Stringer took the podium to declare that, this time, N.Y.U. would not be using a school as bait for approval of its 2031 Plan. The school was officially going to happen, he said, and was therefore “off the table,” with no further agreements needed. In other words, it wasn’t going to be another empty promise, like N.Y.U. has been offering for decades. (There’s even a February 1960 letter to The New York Times from N.Y.U.’s president promising a school for the benefit of the community, as well as N.Y.U.’s own faculty and affiliates.)

Getting the core and shell means that the city would save more than half of the usual costs of building a school, plus not have to purchase the land, virtually assuring the community would get a public school. And because this all was to happen well in advance of the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, it would not need to be part of ULURP negotiations and approvals: This was a done deal.

During 2011 and 2012 as the approvals process proceeded, somehow the commitment to a core and shell of a school morphed into simply the land. And this came with new strings: The land for a school would only be provided if the city’s School Construction Authority formally expressed a commitment to build a school and fund it by 2025. Where was the promise to provide the core and shell that would mitigate an enormous amount of taxpayer cost to create a school? It was conveniently forgotten.

The ULURP process happened in 2011 and 2012. Through three of the four stages of ULURP — the community board (which voted a resounding “No” on the NYU2031 Plan); the borough president (who voted “Yes” on the plan, though with conditions); and City Planning (which, voted “Yes,” with some minor tweaks) — the 2025 date remained.

Then came the City Council. The 2025 date was suddenly moved up to 2014, even though the S.C.A. works on five-year budget cycles and the required funding was not in that cycle’s budget.

To mitigate the almost certain loss of a school, in N.Y.U.’s 100,000-square-foot building (which would also include 32,000 square feet of underground space), 25,000 square feet would be provided to “community facilities” that could pay a reduced rent. But even that came with a clawback: If the space goes unrented after one year — whether from initial attempt to rent or a year after the tenant vacates — N.Y.U. is free to occupy that space, with no further responsibility to find a community-benefit tenant.

In 2014, as the pushed-up deadline loomed, strong pressure by C.B. 2 and local school advocates got N.Y.U. and Councilmember Margaret Chin to reopen the issue and move the S.C.A.’s deadline to the end of 2018. However, we fought to restore the 2025 deadline since the 2018 date came with a shorter window from deciding to build a school to commencing actual construction. That window is a strong concern since the site, at Bleecker St. and LaGuardia Place, where the Morton Williams supermarket stands, is a difficult one due to the adjacent beloved LaGuardia Corner Gardens and due to the below-grade facility N.Y.U. plans to build beneath the school site — making it virtually impossible for S.C.A. to determine when it can actually begin construction.

Now, with 2018 drawing to a close, C.B.2 is again demanding the date for the S.C.A.’s decision and for funding allocation be pushed back to the original 2025 date, providing a wider window between the decision and construction’s commencement, to allow for all the needed work prior to “shovels in the ground.”

N.Y.U. instead recently agreed, per a memo to its own affiliates (without official notification to C.B. 2, as of this writing) to push the required date for the S.C.A.’s decision back a bit — this time to 2021, as a final extension despite C.B. 2’s well-reasoned justifications for the original 2025 date. And still no word on the core and shell promised by N.Y.U.

Well, some of us never forgot that commitment. C.B. 2 and its strong Schools and Education Committee, along with local politicians, including those present for the core-and-shell announcement, must keep on pushing N.Y.U. to honor its statement from that day in March 2010.

If the core and shell are built or an equivalent amount of funding provided, it’s almost certain the community gets a needed school rather than N.Y.U.’s 132,000 square feet for a community facility — that can vanish forever if a downturn in nonprofit funding lasts more than a year, which, sadly, is all too likely.

N.Y.U., we call upon you to provide the core and shell of a public school on your land as you promised. The community deserves no less.

Cude is chairperson, Community Board 2

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