By Serena Solomon
December 11, 2009
MIDTOWN - Community leaders and parents are concerned about a Hell's Kitchen construction project that could increase the number of children at the overcrowded school and shrink the size of the playground.
The development occupies most of a block from W. 44th to W. 45th streets between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues and would replace the century-old P.S. 51 with a new, larger building. It would also add 1,200 apartments and commercial space.
"It's good and it's bad," said Katherine Consuelo-Johnson, Parents and Teachers Association president at the school, said at a recent public City Planning Commission hearing on the P.S. 51 and Gotham West Development. "We are losing a great amount of playground, but then we get a state of the art school."
The new school will accommodate more students: 620, up from 340, according to Consuelo-Johnson. The new facility, along with the other residential spaces also cuts into the playground.
"It will be half the size of the current playground for twice the amount of students," she said. Another concern of many parents have is that the new buildings will cast shadows on the playground. Parents and politicians, including state Sen. Tom Duane, have proposed a rooftop playground as an alternative.
The Planning Commission has until Jan. 29 to vote on the development. Until then, parents and community groups are mobilizing to get their point across.
"The parents of P.S. 51 are organizing some sort of action next week," said Lucas Shapiro, from the Housing Conservation Coordinators. He said parents are planning to show what a darkened and crowded lunchtime would be like.
At the hearing, Duane, in testimony read by his aide, Seth Berliner, raised concern about increased overcrowing in schools that would come from this development and others like it. According to Duane, the elementary schools in the area will already be operating at 193 percent capacity by 2013, without the added numbers from new apartments.
"With the proposed development’s introduction of 162 elementary-aged students," the senator's testimony read, "that high percentage will inch up to 194 percent, exacerbating an already terrible projected problem."
He said that numerous developments on the West Side will put future generations of school children at risk of attending overcrowded classrooms.
"While the new P.S. 51 is a much needed step, it alone is insufficient."