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Berkeley Carroll Plan Ignites Local Ire

It was reading, writing and rage at a Park Slope private school last week, as local residents expressed fury with the Berkeley Carroll School’s plan to rebuild a one-story building on its property.

The school’s plan to reconstruct an annex at the rear of its middle and upper school at 181 Lincoln Place will devalue properties and distort residents’ quality of life, those at the meeting charged.

The July 29 meeting took place inside the school’s overheated gymnasium, where a golden banner reading ‘Who gets a voice?’ taunted the audience, who said the tony school has been deaf to their concerns for years.

“Who has a voice?” wondered Michael Crisafulli, a vocal critic of the plan. “We don’t!”

The school’s latest scheme is simply the culmination of a relationship that over the years has turned sour, those at the meeting said.

“For 15 years, the school has completely ignored our existence,” said Ron Diamond. “At this point, your credibility with us is zero, because you haven’t acted as good neighbors.”

Barbara Grossman, president of the school’s board of trustees, apologized for the past and promised an open line of communication in the future. “I pledge to you that we will hear your grievances and we will act on them,” she said.

The school has said its new building will allow more classrooms, a larger and more efficient dining room, teacher offices and a more space for student assembly and study. The new building would not be adding to the school’s population of about 450 students.

A particularly galling element, for some residents, is the inclusion of a rooftop playground, which will only add to the daily cacophony, they said.

“What they are doing is going to destroy the integrity of the neighborhood and its landmarked quality,” said St. John’s Place resident Morty Newburgh.

The work does not require a variance, and, as currently conceived, is allowable under the zoning for the site. Plans could be ready to submit to the Department of Buildings by the fall, Grossman said, adding that there is still room to amend the plan where possible.

Work could begin at the end of the 2009-2010 school year, school officials said.

Grossman called the meeting a “good-faith effort,” but admitted to being “hobbled” by the fact that “we don’t have a lot of answers,” as certain aspects of the plan are still in flux.

Lydia Denworth, a trustee at the school, attempted to moderate the meeting, and bore the brunt of the audience’s ire. “I absolutely understand,” she offered. “I agree, it will be disruptive,” she conceded.

But, she continued, the school came to the public even before it has finalized its designs, in an attempt to open a constructive dialogue. “We wanted to talk to you as soon as we felt we could,” she said.

Denworth said the new building would only be a few feet taller than the existing structure, but would be more dense. She insisted that the design for the annex is not a fait accompli.

Denworth said she assumed that the original building, constructed in 1971, contained asbestos, which would be removed during its demolition. “We are planning to do everything to code and within the law,” she vowed.

Newburgh, an attorney by trade, said the issue is much greater than an infringement on his quality of life. “They have no plans showing how they will prevent asbestos from flying through the neighborhood,” he said, adding that the meeting did little to ease any concerns. “I’m of the same opinion of them as I had coming in: they cannot be trusted.”

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