Jewish Home Lifecare: The effect on schools

| 17 Feb 2015 | 01:01

    Details about how construction will affect P.S. 163 will be included in a forthcoming environmental impact statement

    Upper West side Assembly member Daniel O'Donnell sent a letter to the state health department blasting a report by Jewish Home Lifecare that, he said, fails to take into account the effect that building a 20-story nursing home on West 97th Street will have on a neighboring public school.

    JHL is proposing to build the nursing home adjacent to P.S. 163, an elementary school, with a construction outlay of almost three years. The home will serve approximately 400 full-time residents with an additional 150 beds for seniors receiving temporary care following surgery in a hospital, according to JHL spokesperson Ethan Geto.

    O'Donnell said the final scoping document is inadequate and construction will severely threaten students' "ability to function in a scholastic environment."

    "Constructing a 20-story nursing home directly adjacent to a school educating over 650 children each day will, without a doubt, have a direct effect on this particular community facility," wrote O'Donnell in a letter to state health commissioner Nirav Shah.

    But Geto said that the scoping document is merely a roadmap for the health department to decide which of the community's concerns should be addressed by JHL, and that specifics from the company about how construction will affect kids during the school day will be included in a forthcoming draft environmental impact statement, which he called the more important document.

    The letter is the latest skirmish between JHL and local leaders and residents on the Upper West Side. Critics of the plan say the building threatens open space in the neighborhood and the low-rise aesthetic in that area of 97th Street, in addition to adversely affecting the school next door.

    In an interview, O'Donnell said he's hopeful his letter will compel the health department to make JHL re-examine the impact of its plan.

    "I found that to be a glaring omission in the document," said O'Donnell, in reference to the scoping document's Community Facilities and Services section. "If you're planning to build within almost inches of a public school, and have a three-year construction time frame, there's got to be an impact on community facilities. How could you not do an analysis of what that is?"

    But Geto said that analysis and the mitigation efforts that JHL plans to undertake will be detailed in the DEIS.

    "The scoping document in fact directly addresses issues regarding P.S. 163 under the Construction section," said Geto. "The Community Facilities section is not the section that addresses construction impacts on nearby residential buildings or community facilities such as schools. What the Community Facilities section is intended to do is address is the impact of a project on existing community facilities once it is built."

    The scoping document, according to Geto, merely lays out the concerns that the community has that, after review, the health department believes has merit and should be addressed in an environmental impact statement.

    A review of the scoping document by the West Side Spirit revealed a series of responses from the health department on specific concerns that they want JHL to address in the coming environmental impact statement.

    For instance, in a question about how construction will affect students' day-to-day lives during school hours, the health department said, "JHL has committed to ensuring that its construction has a minimal impact on P.S. 163. To that end, the DEIS will identify measures that will be implemented during construction to minimize the effects of project construction on traffic conditions, noise, air quality, and other issues of concern."

    In the final scoping document, the health department indicated that it won't deny JHL's proposal simply on the basis that construction will be occurring during school hours.

    "However, it is not logistically possible to limit construction activities to occur only during periods when school is not in session," said the health department in the final scoping document.

    The next step is for the health department to release the draft environmental impact statement on their website. Geto said residents and leaders will then have 30 days to review the statement and give subsequent testimony to the health department and JHL over two consecutive days of hearings at P.S. 163 that are set to be scheduled.

    "We encouraged the Dept. of Health to do that because we didn't want anybody to say at the end of the day they didn't get a chance to testify," said Geto.

    After testimony from the public and input from JHL, the health department will issue a final environmental impact statement and either approve or disapprove the project by way of an internal decision.

    "We believe that the NYS Department of Health will make its judgments based on facts and the applicable regulatory standards, and in this regard JHL is confident that it has and will continue to adhere to both the spirit and the letter of the law in regard to all relevant regulations and guidelines," said Geto.

    If all goes according to plan, said Geto, construction of the nursing home will begin as early as October of this year.