Officials from the School Construction Authority (SCA) unveiled plans for the new school at a March 26th public hearing. Afterwards, Community Board 6's Landmarks and Land Use Committee voted to extend the review process before making a recommendation on the project.
The SCA is proposing to raze the existing P.S. 133 building on Fourth Avenue between Baltic and Butler streets and replace it with a state-of-the-art building to house separate schools from two different school districts. To accommodate the new building, the SCA plans to significantly downsize a popular community garden that currently takes up a large area of the school site.
In a presentation at the hearing, Joshua Burdick, an architect contracted by SCA for the project, unveiled a scale model of the new school, which he said would replicate the unique design and character of the existing school, a Park Slope institution beloved by generations of residents.
"We spent a lot of time studying the current building," Burdick said. "It seems to us that the new school captures the flavor [of the existing school]. It will not look like a modern building when it's built."
The 116,000-square-foot, five-story building, design considerations not withstanding, would dwarf the current 46,000-square-foot, four-story school.
It would feature a main entrance on a raised plaza at Butler Street and Fourth Avenue and a second entrance around the corner on Baltic Street, and include an assembly area, library, full gymnasium, science, art, and computer labs and enough classroom space for almost 1,000 students.
Stanley Dahir, an SCA Architecture and Engineering director, said the facility would house two schools under the same roof: the revamped P.S. 133, as well an entirely new school that does not exist now.
Details of how this plan would work have not been formalized yet, Dahir said. Rosemary Ann Stuart, superintendent of Community School District 15, said the districting and zoning requirements needed to allow schools from districts 13 and 15 to coexist in one building could not be formulated until the school proposal is passed.
Community response to the ambitious proposal was overwhelmingly negative, though a few educators at the public hearing spoke in support of the expanded school. Most neighborhood residents, however, objected to the demolition of the current school, the size of its proposed replacement and impact on the surrounding area, and, most vehemently, to any change to the site's community garden.
"I look at this [plan for the new] building and it scares me," said Miriam Perez, a neighborhood resident for over three decades who attended P.S. 133 as a child. "What's going to happen to the rest of us who live here?"
Perez worried that a new 900-seat school in the area would only increase the strain on emergency, sanitation and other city services for residents who live on the streets around the school.
"We are not anti-education, we're for education," said one longtime Park Slope resident S.J. Avery. But "a building of that size, that massive, doesn't belong in our neighborhood."
Avery criticized the Department of Education (DOE) and its building agency, the SCA, for wielding their power with impunity, and called for more information and public hearing sessions to properly oversee the planning process.
"If the SCA and DOE were people, they'd be called at best serial muggers," Avery said. "It's time to put the cuffs on."
Several gardeners rallied in defense of their open space, where vegetables, fruit, and other plants have grown since the garden was established 29 years ago. It has since become an important neighborhood social center, where barbeques and other community events are held throughout the year.
The garden is situated on the northwest portion of the school plot, next to school playgrounds and basketball courts. The SCA is proposing to relocate the garden, to make way for the new school, to a 3,000-square foot lot on the southwestern corner of the property.
"That is a [nearly] 30-year-old garden. It means a lot to a lot of people," said Trouy Kannapell, who gardens there.
Kannapell and several other community gardeners expressed outrage that the city would plan to demolish the garden, and replace it with one only half its size, without notifying the people who run and use the space.
"We were never consulted, we were never informed [until now]," Kannapell told SCA officials at the meeting. "That does not buy goodwill."
SCA's director of External Affairs, Fred Maley, said residents should be happy the city plans to replace the garden at all.
"Will the [new] garden be smaller? Yes," Maley said. "But I'm amazed that there's a community garden still there [in the plan] because that is not standard."
Maley went on to acknowledge residents' frustration with the school proposal - even apologizing at one point for the "lack of community interaction up until now" - but nevertheless defended the authority's plans, saying the new school would fill an important educational need in Park Slope.
Of the few people who spoke in favor of the plan, most were educators who argued a new school was more important than a larger community garden, and trumped other concerns over property value, traffic congestion, and parking spaces.
"Any action which would build educational capacity should be given a presumption of legitimacy," said Jim Devore, vice-chair of Community Education Council 15, which serves the Park Slope area, in support of the school proposal. "If we are to take our growth seriously, it is incumbent upon us to take the DOE seriously when, on rare occasion, they get something right."
An SCA spokesperson said the authority is moving forward with an Environmental Impact Study at the proposed site, and will hold a second public hearing on the project once the EIS is completed.