Today’s news:

Bigger P.S. 133, but unequal, some fear

The city’s plan to demolish P.S. 133 in Park Slope and erect a larger building was reviewed by the City Council this week.

During the public hearing led by the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses, about 30 community residents spoke in opposition to the project.

“What we had been asking was that the SCA [School Construction Authority] withdraw their current proposal and work with a broad and representative group in the community to develop a plan that would preserve and renovate the historic P.S. 133 building while developing another building on the site to accommodate additional seats,” explained Butler Street resident S.J. Avery.

Avery believes the community would be better served if the city agreed to construct an annex and keep P.S. 133 intact — rather than demolish the 100−year−old school building and erect a new structure for 900 students, which is triple the size of P.S. 133’s current student body.

Residents have also questioned the logistics of the plan, saying that construction could undermine the foundations of their homes and bring rats and trash to the neighborhood.

They also say that by having two schools in the new building — one for P.S. 133, where the majority of students are African−American or Hispanic, and another for School District 15, where most students are white — it could give the appearance of “separate but equal.” (P.S. 133 is located in District 13, which includes Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and Prospect Heights. District 15 spans Red Hook, Park Slope and Sunset Park.)

“I’m very much concerned about the environmental toxins, lack of outreach and planning, and what appears to be separate and unequal schools,” City Councilmember Letitia James told this paper. “And why are we rushing this decision?”

City Councilmember David Yassky supports the city’s project because it will provide additional seats for District 15, which is overcrowded. However, he says the SCA hasn’t kept the community in the loop.

Yassky’s rep said the councilman “believes we need more seats in the school district. The SCA has not handled the process well. The project should move forward with greater community participation.”

The city Department of Education (DOE) stands by its plan for P.S. 133, 375 Butler Street.

To address concerns about problems during the construction phase, the SCA has proposed decreasing the construction period from four years to three. To facilitate this, P.S. 133’s students and staff would temporarily relocate to the St. Thomas Aquinas School building at Fourth Avenue and Eighth Street.

City officials insist that race is not a factor in this project and that throughout the city, a single building may contain several schools.

The DOE initially wanted to create one large school accepting students from Districts 13 and 15 but abandoned the idea when District 13’s Community Education Council (CEC) requested that P.S. 133 remain independent.

The city wants to start the project quickly because funding is provided under the DOE’s current capital plan, which expires at the end of this month. If the money is not used soon, it might not be available during the 2010–2014 capital plan.

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