A New Middle School Is Coming: Will Downtown Kids Get to Go?

Rendering of the middle school to open in fall 2017 at 75 Morton Street, corner of Washington Street. Rendering: John Ciardullo Associates

Mar. 13, 2016

A new and much needed zoned middle school will open in the fall of next year at 75 Morton St. in Greenwich Village. Now heres the question: Will Tribeca and Battery Park City kids, just a short subway hop away, be among its students?

The District 2 Community Education Council, which approves school zoning, will meet Tuesday, March 15, 6:30 p.m., at P.S. 234 in Tribeca, to hear from parents and weigh in themselves on two Department of Education zoning options. One of those options includes the school zones for P.S. 234, P.S. 89 and P.S. 276 in addition to six elementary school zones above Canal Street. The other excludes them.

Unlike other middle schools in the district that are part of the “choice” program in which the schools select the students who have applied to them, children are guaranteed a seat in their zoned school. Simon Baruch Middle School, at 21st Street and First Avenue, is the zoned school for Lower Manhattan children.

“The middle school process is very stressful to parents. It’s all the more stressful to Downtown parents because the default option is so far away,” said CEC member Claude Arpels, a Tribeca parent who has been advocating for the inclusion of Lower Manhattan below Canal Street in the 75 Morton Street zone. “Having a zoned option that was easy to get to would be extremely comforting and take a lot of the anxiety out of the middle school process for Downtown.”

At two previous zoning hearings held this month, most reaction to the two options came from Baruch parents, said Matthew Horowitz, chairman of the CEC’s 75 Morton Committee. Speaking at Lower Manhattans School Overcrowding Task Force on Friday, he said that they feared that a wider zone would reduce their enrollment, allowing a second school to be housed in their building.

“They are very worried that they are going to lose a great deal of their numbers and their main worry is co-location,” Horowitz said. “They feel like if their numbers drop enough they’ll get a charter school in there.”

But according to Tricia Joyce, a Downtown school advocate and chair of Community Board 1’s Youth and Education Committee, few Downtown children choose to attend Baruch, so “the impact of who was going there was next to nothing.”

When the 75 Morton Street middle school opens next year, it will be 10 years since Village parents began advocating for a new middle school. Assemblywoman Deborah Glick identified the building, then for sale, and parents and community activists pushed the city to buy it. The Village community has put much effort into planning for the school, with discussions about design, admissions, philosophy and more.

The seven-story, 177,000 square-foot school is projected to enroll 800 to 1,000 students and, among its facilities, have three science labs, two art rooms, two music rooms, a dance and movement room and combination gym and auditorium.

At its upcoming meeting, the CEC members will give their views on the two options. “Depending on the outcome of the discussion we may request [from the DOE] some modifications or we may not,” CEC President Shino Tanikawa told the Trib. If modifications are made, she said, there could be “another couple” of hearings before the CEC votes.

In District 2, most children do not attend their zoned middle school but instead are admitted to unzoned schools through the “choice” program, making middle school zoning decisions more complicated than that for a new elementary school, Tanikawa said.

“There's no way to site it really right because if you look at the number of seats offered in District 2, only 20 percent of the total available seats are zoned seats.”

“In that landscape,” she added, “how do you draw the line? It’s really difficult.”