Heights elementary school to grow — could middle school be next?

Walentas again fights his neighbors over Dock Street apartment tower
Two Trees Management

A city plan to build an annex at an increasingly popular Brooklyn Heights elementary school had local power brokers and parents excited that, for the first time, there is clear city support of a new middle school in the district.

But where that middle school will be remains a conflict between parents and the local officials who represent them.

On Tuesday, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein announced the construction of a 150-seat facility at the revitalized PS 8 elementary school, which operates at 118 percent capacity.

Klein said he hopes the annex would be open in time for the 2011 school year.

But long before that date, local electeds and community leaders will be calling for Klein to turn the annex into the neighborhood’s long-sought middle school.

The goal of these leaders is to eliminate the need for a sixth-through-eighth-grade facility that is part of a proposal by developer David Walentas on Dock Street.

Councilman David Yassky (D–Brooklyn Heights) even said this week that he’d change city law to circumvent the developer’s controversial 18-story residential tower — despite the 300-seat middle school that Walentas would include.

Yassky said the city’s goal should be to maximize the annex’s size to allow for a full-scale middle school on the PS 8 site.

“My goal will be to have it as large as possible,” Yassky said. “I’d be open to changing the zoning to allow more space if it would make PS 8 K-through-8.”

But Yassky may not win the day.

Education Department spokeswoman Marge Feinberg put the agency at the center of the controversy for the first time, saying Klein “would consider” accepting Walentas’s middle school proposal.

Yassky, Brooklyn Heights Association Executive Director Judy Stanton, and others have loudly criticized that project, arguing that the building would block views of the Brooklyn Bridge. Were PS 8 to once again house kindergarten through eighth grades, as it once did, the problem would be solved — and Walentas’s controversial project would lose its main public benefit.

“I would like for the city to consider what is the maximum, feasibly-sized extension at PS 8,” Stanton said. “[A bigger annex] is a better option for PS 8 families than the Dock Street proposal.”

PS 8 parents, meanwhile, are clamoring for the additional space — wherever it would be. Indeed, some parents are concerned that their leaders aren’t necessarily listening to their calls for a middle school even if it means one on Dock Street. And should the annex attract more parents to PS 8, there could be an even stronger need for a middle school.

“Great schools should be able to meet the demand of the community, [and] I imagine PS 8’s popularity will only increase,” said PS 8 parent Allison Pell. “The Dock Street project seems like a win-win for everyone. The elementary school gets more space and the community gets a middle school.”

PS 8 became popular after a new principal, Seth Phillips, arrived in 2003 and bucked a decades-old trend by attracting middle- and upper-middle class parents. A strong PTA and popular fundraisers soon followed.