'The Mayor Asked for a Favor': How P.S. 150 Won Battle to Stay in Tribeca

On Friday, near the stairs leading to their school, PS 150 students sign thank you cards that will be copied and sent to those who made their victory possible. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Dec. 07, 2018

In the end, it would take the city’s highest public official to rescue the city’s smallest public elementary school, P.S. 150 in Tribeca.

A call from Mayor Bill de Blasio to Steve Roth, chairman and CEO of the real estate giant Vornado Realty Trust, halted the school’s eviction next year from its Greenwich Street home in Independence Plaza, owned by Vornado and Stellar Management. And it brought an end to the brief but energetic campaign being waged by activist school parents, reinforced by elected officials and Community Board 1.

“We heard from the community advocates and we heard what they were saying and [the mayor] wanted to get involved,” said Jaclyn Rothenberg, a de Blasio spokeswoman.

“The mayor asked for a favor and we were happy to accede to that,” said a Vornado source. The oral agreement is yet to be hammered out in writing, the person added.

In a joint statement, Vornado and Stellar Management credited de Blasio as well as Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilwoman Margaret Chin with reaching a “collaborative agreement that keeps PS 150 at Independence Plaza through 2022.” The following year, the school community is expected to move to a newly constructed building at 42 Trinity Pl.

Before the agreement was reached, the Department of Education had planned for the one-class-per-grade school to “co-locate” for four years on a floor of the Peck Slip School, a mile away in the Seaport.

“There were a lot of calls and a lot of effort to make sure that we get this victory,” Chin said in a phone interview. “We’re very happy that through this collaborative effort we were able to achieve that victory.”

Chin announced the news Wednesday evening in a conference call to the activist parents. One of them, Buxton Midyette, said he felt “just incredible relief and very emotional. I was kind of speechless at that moment.”

“We’ve had such a tremendous depth of support from the community and our elected officials,” Midyette added, “but we weren’t sure whether that would be enough.”

Jenny Bonnet, the principal, said she was ready to accept whatever the outcome, “but of course I’m thrilled that we’re staying here. The building is very special to us along with everything that goes with it.”

“We’re going to make the best of the next four years,” she added, “and grateful to everybody who helped out.”

The news Wednesday brought a happy cancellation of plans for a children’s demonstration the next morning against “billionaire developer Vornado” in front of Goldman Sachs, a lender for the refinancing of Independence Plaza. Instead, on Friday morning, the students were signing giant thank you cards to the buildings owners, as well as to the mayor and to their supporters.

Bettina Teodoro, the mother of three PS 150 students, stood at the table overseeing the gaggle of kids as they printed their names.

“Some days I woke up feeling good about it, some days I thought it was not going to happen,” Teodoro said of the campaign. “It means the world to my family, it means the world to the school, and it’s great for Taste of Tribeca, too.” As co-chair of the annual food fundraiser, Teodoro had warned that the school’s move, along with its parent volunteers, could threaten the future of the event, a benefit co-produced by PS 150 and PS 234.

“There are a lot of things we’d have to plan for logistically,” she said. “It was a question mark.”

School advocates, who learned about the eviction plans in early October, had little time to pressure the owners for a change of heart, something the city’s School Construction Authority had failed to do during months of negotiations. The Panel for Education Policy (P.E.P.), which approves co-location plans, had been scheduled to vote on the move on Dec. 18. But in a surprise announcement at the P.E.P.’s November meeting, following a letter from parents read to the panel, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza announced that the vote would be delayed until January.

“He said, ‘We’re listening very closely to the community and are pushing very hard to see what we can do for these kids because we understand what’s going on there,’” recalled PS 150 PTA President Anshal Prurohit, who attended the meeting with fellow school parent Jonah Benton. Carranza’s announcement came barely a week after a demonstration by PS 150 students and elected officials on the steps leading to the school that received wide media coverage.

Despite the sense of relief over the delayed vote, few could foresee victory on the horizon. “Truly the miracle on Greenwich Street,” is how Paul Hovitz, co-chair of CB1’s Youth and Education Committee put it. And the second miracle, at that. In 2013, some of the same parents fought and won against a Department of Education plan to move the school community to a new building in Chelsea.

“I feel so happy that this is such a good example for our kids,” said Pruohit, the PTA president, “to see that if you make your voices heard, things can happen for them.”