The dilapidated bathrooms at a Carroll Gardens elementary school will get their first renovation since the Eisenhower administration thanks to an initiative by a local legislator that democratizes the Council budgeting process.
Eight “dirty, gloomy, noxious, and unhealthy” restrooms at PS 58 on Smith Street equipped with hard-to-flush toilets and broken soap dispensers, according to a video released by the school, will get brand new automatic flush valves, soap dispensers, light fixtures, and air vents as part of Councilman Brad Lander’s (D–Carroll Gardens) participatory budgeting program.
The process gives citizens the chance to choose how to spend $1 million in taxpayer funds by voting on a series of public improvement projects in their districts nominated by committees of neighbors. Each district’s top vote-getters receive full financing through their elected’s discretionary funds.
More than 2,800 people cast ballots during the week-long voting period that came to a close on Sunday in Lander’s 39th district, which stretches from Carroll Gardens to Borough Park.
The $110,000 restoration of PS 58’s shabby bathrooms is one of seven winning projects out of a total of 24 nominees that will be included in Lander’s upcoming fiscal year budget of approximately $3 million.
“It’s about time the bathrooms get renovated,” said PS 58 mom Virginie Smith, whose three kids attend the school. “I would be devastated if they weren’t — it’s really for the children.”
The project that garnered the most support — with 1193 votes— will bring 34 high-tech “Smartboards” and new MacBook computers to Windsor Terrace’s PS 230 for $180,000.
Kensington’s PS 179 will also receive $115,000 to install 27 Smartboards to aid English language learners and special-needs students.
“It’s a fantastic thing to be able to fund projects in our community and somewhat bypass the bureaucratic process,” said Arlene Mathis, a member of the program’s district committee, who said that she was shocked that projects like restoring run-down school bathrooms were even up for debate. “This is something that the [Department of Education] should have been fixing. It should not have gone through this process.”
Other winning projects include:
• $75,000 for 29 new adult and children’s computers at the Carroll Gardens library branch and the Windsor Terrace library branch.
• $170,000 for 10 new trees with eco-friendly pits to help stop storm water and raw sewage from flooding the Gowanus Canal during storms.
• $300,000 to extend the sidewalks and reduce crossing distances on Church Avenue at Coney Island and McDonald avenues.
Those six projects total $950,000, leaving just $50,000 to spare for the final winner — a proposal to make safety improvements on busy Hicks Street — but Lander said he would work with the city to secure the remaining cash for the $350,000 project.
“I’m glad that it’s a mix of the really practical and the somewhat innovative — to have the school bathrooms on the one hand and the green infrastructure on the other is a real nice mix,” said Lander at his voting results party at Park Slope’s Commonwealth pub Sunday night.
“Participatory budgeting shows the possibility of people working together through government to really make a positive change in their neighborhood and I’m really proud of it,” he said.
Lander was one of eight Councilmember’s, including Jumaane Williams (D–Flatbush), Stephen Levin (D–Williamsburg), and David Greenfield (D–Borough Park), to use the budgeting tool this year.