The public middle school offered to the city by a DUMBO developer as a sweetener to get approval for his controversial apartment building next to the Brooklyn Bridge may have failed to meet city standards when it was approved earlier this year, according to documents that came to light this week.
The school in David and Jed Walentas’s Dock Street project would be “compromised” from city standards, Bruce Barrett, in-house architect for the School Construction Authority wrote to his superiors in 2007 — though his assessment was kept from the public until this week, nearly four months after the City Council brushed past earlier concerns and approved the project.
But a spokeswoman for the Walentases’ development company, Two Trees Management, said that most of the issues raised by Barrett have already been addressed during the design phase of the project.
“In the intervening [two years], Two Trees has undertaken negotiations with the School Construction Authority and a thorough environmental study, as well as completed a public [review] process that has resulted in an even better school for the children of Brooklyn,” said spokeswoman Barbara Wagner.
School officials echoed Wagner, but did not specifically refute all of the charges in Barrett’s bombshell e-mail from August, 2007.
In it, the architect cited noise and shadows from the adjacent Brooklyn Bridge, but concerned itself mainly with the size of the 46,000-square-foot proposed educational center.
The plans, he said, “would yield a very small school (compromised from our standards).”
And he said that the proposed school’s gymnasium would not be “a gym, per se,” because its 15-foot ceiling height would be at least eight feet lower than the city’s standard.
He added that there would be “premium costs due to the mixed use with the high-rise residential building,” though he also concluded that the School Construction Authority would still save $5 million over building its own school. The city would also save several times that amount in land acquisition costs.
A spokesman for the School Construction Authority said that Barrett’s red-flag e-mail was written during the early stages of the negotiation between Two Trees and the city and, as such, was meant to raise concerns that would later be addressed during the design phase, which is ongoing.
“Many of the issues, such as ceiling height, have been addressed,” said the spokesman, Will Havemann. “Before construction begins on this school, it will certainly meet our standards.”
But Councilman David Yassky (D–Brooklyn Heights), who opposes the Dock Street project, said he wants proof.
“They’ll need to show us that this school can have a real gym,” he said. “So far, I have not seen anything that tells me they can make it a really good middle school.”
He said the latest release of internal e-mails — and the curious timing of their release long after the project has been approved — bolsters his long-standing claim that the construction agency favored the Walentas project despite arguments that it was not the best deal for the city.
“As I have said all along the Dock Street School was and is a bad deal,” Yassky said. “It is tantamount to a literal and figurative robbery.”
Earlier this year, Freedom of Information requests by Yassky and this newspaper revealed that the School Construction Authority was not seriously considering alternative sites or developers for such a school.
The latest set of documents was provided to Yassky’s office a little over a month ago — and Dock Street opponents cited the delayed release as evidence that the Barrett e-mail was too hot to release when the project was about to be approved by the Council.
“It was sent well after the first round of documents from February and after the Council vote,” said Andrew Stengel, a DUMBO resident and project opponent. “We can only speculate about why they held back the documents.”
It is unclear what the ramifications of the latest controversy will be. The project has been approved by the City Council.
©2009 Community News Group
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