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City officials call on Brooklyn developers to build more schools

Brooklyn developers, city officials have a message for you: consider including much-needed schools in your residential development plans.

That was the takeaway from a recent panel at TerraCRG’s “Only Brooklyn” real estate conference, called “Infastructure: Making Neighborhoods.”

Photo by The Leaf Project/ Flickr
Photo by The Leaf Project/ Flickr

Former MTA chairman Joe Lhota, who is now the senior vice president, vice dean, and chief of staff at NYU Langone Medical Center, was one of the panelists, as well as Lorraine Grillo, president and CEO of the NYC School Construction Authority (NYCSCA).

Grillo said the NYCSCA has secured funding for 15,000 schools seats, while in Downtown Brooklyn, 3,000 new seats are needed.

The agency does not currently have locations locked down in DoBro, and is also looking to construct new schools in areas of South Brooklyn, where they are desperately needed. “In Downtown Brooklyn in particular, 3,000 new school seats are need, and we are desperate for sites,” said Grillo. “We have funding now and would hate to lose that.”

In East New York, where Mayor de Blasio’s administration has zeroed in on building affordable housing and other economic development efforts, the NYCSCA has identified the need for 1,000 schools seats, and they have secured a piece of land.

However, in many communities, Grillo has received what she called “mixed messages” from members of the community on whether or not new schools should be constructed. While residents acknowledge that new schools are needed and support them, many also do not like the changes the construction creates in the neighborhoods.

Often the residents help select a site — but then there is resistance once the spot is nailed down.

“Often people want things to remain as they’ve always been, but it’s just not like that anymore,” said Grillo.

While ten years ago the agency’s ideal site for a school in Brooklyn would be a one-acre property on a tree-lined street with frontage and no traffic, now, they’ll take what they can get.

“Now we’re looking at just about any kind of space, any configuration, any location,” said Grillo. Last September, the agency opened up a pre-K school at the Brooklyn Army Terminal, a move that a decade ago would have gotten them “laughed out of the city,” she said.

“As we see neighborhood and needs changing, we really want to get ahead of the curve. We’ll work with developers, build within a high rise,” said Grillo. She mentioned that the NYCSCA is working with Two Trees development at a site on Box Street, where one of the Walentas’ first steps was to reach out to the agency about putting a school in at the new development.

“Those are the kinds of developers we’re looking for,” said Grillo. “Families absolutely love to move into a building that has either a pre-K or PS where they can come down the elevator, drop their kid off and go off to work. It’s a great selling point for developers.”

The agency, if it were to to buy a piece of land in Brooklyn, it would have to be about 15,000 s/f at a minimum to make it viable.  “All rules are out the window now because space is really at a premium,” she said.

Lhota pushed the need for better transportation within the borough of Brooklyn, and supports (and is on the board) of the Brooklyn Queens Connector, the proposed light rail that would travel along the Brooklyn waterfront.

He also took issue with the borough’s bus system, which he believes could use some updating.

“The bus system needs to be rerouted and rerouted to where the jobs are now,” said Lhota.

“The ability to get to Industry City isn’t the easiest thing in the world because buses don’t go there. There was a time when all buses in Brooklyn went to the Brooklyn Navy Yards because it was the biggest employer.”

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