Perhaps 90 percent of those present were teachers, parents, and students from PS 204, a nearby elementary school. Their current building, a former synagogue on West 174th Street, lacks many of the amenities some schools take for granted. There's no gym or playground, for example; children play on the stretch of cordoned-off street. There are also plumbing problems, and the building itself has seen better days. Recently, a sink in one of the bathrooms fell off the wall, shattering on the floor.
"We find this [our current situation] unacceptable, we hope you find this unacceptable," Bill Geelan, a teacher at the school, told the panel, which included Department of Education staffers and elected officials.
"We are here tonight to say please consider us for the new building," he said.
Geelan's words were echoed by dozens of other teachers, parents, and students, all of whom took their turn at the mic. If some audience members had different ideas for the building, they didn't say so: PS 204 stole the show.
Community Education Council 9, along with the relevant elected officials, will now offer their recommendation to the DOE. After that, a public hearing will be held. Then the DOE will have the final say.
But while nothing was decided last night, the meeting, held at Community School 232, next door to the PS/IS 338 construction site, did clear up a few things - not least that PS 204's school community is mobilized and determined.
We also learned a little more about the new building, including:
- It will accommodate one 642-seat school, which includes a 60-seat District 75 (special education) program.
- It has been built to house a K-5 school, a 6-8 one, or a K-8 one - in other words, an elementary school, a middle school, or something in between.
- It won't necessarily be a brand new school. "We can open a new school [public or charter] or we can move an existing school into the new building," said Tania Shinkawa, from the DOE's Office of Portfolio Development.
- If an existing school takes over the building, the space left behind would still be used as a school.
As the meeting drew to a close, Aurelia Greene, the deputy borough president, told the large crowd she was proud of them for speaking up and getting their message across.
Vanessa Gibson, the assemblywoman for the area, went further, saying she supported PS 204's demands. "My recommendation is that PS 204 is moved into the new building," she said.