Downtown is headed for a classroom crisis if it does not get a public elementary school soon because children in the fast-growing residential portion of the neighborhood have all but filled the available slots in nearby schools, parents say.
The area that was almost totally commercial as recently as a decade ago has seen a slew of residential towers rise in recent years and another batch is being built that will bring thousands more people, including many families, squeezing the already-packed public schools in adjacent neighborhoods, according to transplants who became activists when they realized that nothing is being done to absorb the crop of new students.
“We moved to Downtown Brooklyn about four years ago and assumed with all the building that’s been going on, they must be planning for a school,” said Chris Young, a television documentary producer, who moved to the neighborhood around the time his first child was born.
But to Young’s surprise, the neighborhood does not have a public elementary school and none is planned that community leaders know about, though only 400 seats remain in the public schools Downtown kids currently attend in Dumbo, Fort Greene, Boerum Hill and Brooklyn Heights. The neighborhood was home to 6,270 people as of the 2010 census and that population could more than double as some 8,000 apartments come online, according to the agitator dad, including some 2,500 that are part of towers under construction such as City Point, Avalon Bay on Willoughby and Bridge streets, 388 Bridge Street, and the Hub on Livingston and Schermerhorn streets.
A 757-seat elementary school is proposed for Prospect Heights as part of the contentious Atlantic Yards development but the planning process has not begun and construction would not start until 2019 at the earliest, according to the Department of Education. And the project does little to ease the concerns of Downtown parents such as Young, who says that a big part of the problem with the existing set-up is that it forces children walking to school to cross the hectic roads bounding the neighborhood, including Flatbush and Atlantic avenues, and Tillary Street.
“The neighborhood is bordered by the busiest and most hazardous streets in all of Brooklyn,” Young said.
Young founded the group Downtown Brooklyn School Solutions to advocate for a community school and the organization succeeded in getting the attention of officials including neighborhood Councilman Stephen Levin and leaders of Community Board 2, which has made getting Downtown a public school a top priority.
But Robert Perris, district manager for Community Board 2, said that if an elementary school comes, it probably will not happen in time for Downtown’s new parents to benefit.
“If an elementary school is built in Downtown Brooklyn, there will be people who wanted that to happen, but their kids will be in junior high,” Perris said.
Schools are expensive, after all. Developer Two Trees is budgeting $43-million for a school inside its Dock Street apartment project in Dumbo, and that is just to build out and outfit the interior, not to build a whole school from scratch.
Downtown’s lunch-pail crunch has been brewing as Mayor Bloomberg has been busy trying to shoehorn new schools, most of them public, into existing ones, often over the opposition of parents and teachers.
Downtown’s building — and baby — booms were made possible by a 2005 rezoning that encouraged high-rise construction between the Manhattan Bridge and Fulton Street.