Brooklyn Boro

Guest Editorial Opinion: Leveraging private sector help for our overcrowded schools

September 24, 2015 By Tatiana Rodriguez Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
An aerial view of the former LICH site. Eagle file photo by Mary Frost
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Five years ago, my husband and I moved with our son to the BoCoCa area after hearing about how family friendly the area was.  At first, there was hesitance over whether this was the best choice or whether it was time to move to the suburbs. But we’ve been so happy with the strong sense of community in our neighborhood. I often tell my friends it’s the Valhalla of family friendly neighborhoods, where I’m always able to turn to a stranger if I find myself in a pinch.  

With two children now, I’ve learned more than I ever expected about the New York City public school system. BoCoCa’s public schools have an excellent reputation. It’s unsurprising that they’re grappling with overcrowding issues. I was fortunate that my son secured a kindergarten spot, but was surprised when his friends were placed on waiting lists for PS 8.  I understood not getting into prekindergarten, as we too had that misfortune, but it was surprising to see this for kindergarten.   

While the city is trying to address the overcrowding with school district rezonings, one can’t help consider what other measures can be taken and how as a community we can advocate for that positive change. This thought was partially triggered by a recent conversation with a friend who mentioned that the developer of the former LICH (Long Island College Hospital) site, Fortis Property Group, is including a new public school as part of a proposal to rezone the area. It was interesting — clearly a way for Fortis to build goodwill around the displacement of LICH, but interesting nonetheless.  

I had my hesitations, and made the joke about whether “Fortis” logos would be on the school snack machines. But the truth is, it’s an opportunity — with the expansion of the Columbia Waterfront district and the increasing number of high-rises, another school is needed. It seems that Fortis is anticipating responses that may arise when a large development is proposed – similar to calls for the Pier 6 development to include space for a school.

I wonder whether the bad feelings surrounding the state’s closure of the hospital, along with the height of the proposed buildings, will muddle taking advantage of this opportunity. This new school is a way to further strengthen BoCoCa’s strong sense of community, addressing the frustrations caused by overcrowding in schools. I hope our community seizes this opportunity: an opportunity for badly needed school infrastructure without waiting on the city.  

The state’s move to close the LICH hospital was hard on the community, but when the courts put the resolution in place, the consequences were final. Without the proposed school rezoning, which would require a public approval process, Fortis has the right to build condos without approval — and without adding any additional infrastructure for the neighborhood. While the influx of new development in our area is frustrating, change is inevitable as more and more families discover what my husband and I have: Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill and other nearby areas are fantastic places to begin, and grow, a family.

As our city grows to meet demand, we need smart development that balances needs: the need to maintain neighborhood character and build contextually, but also to accommodate the very real struggles of families like mine trying to build a home with access to great schools nearby. In each case, it’s a tightrope not easily traversed. 

So as our community weighs development on the former LICH site, let’s think carefully about the future of our neighborhood. To me, that means not conflating frustration over the hospital closing with tangible opportunities to make the best of the hand we’ve been dealt.

Tatiana Rodriguez lives with her family in BoCoCa


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