The Private School Building Boom

| 02 Mar 2015 | 05:02

Dalton's expansion draws opposition on the East Side

Once again, an Upper East Side private school is rankling the neighbors.

This time it's the Dalton School, which has outgrown its space and is looking to expand via an extension of the school's 12-story building. Dalton is planning on adding two floors to accommodate more room for robotics, computer science and other classes.

But neighbors aren't happy, petitioning against the move. Last week, Community Board 8 shot down the plan.

If the story sounds familiar, that's because it is. Nightingale Bamford All-Girls School on East 92nd Street created a stir earlier this summer when it put in a request for a roof extension, and the community asked for a re-design of the rooftop air conditioning units. Three years ago, the same school caused controversy when it allegedly pushed out elderly tenants in a neighboring building to complete a $5.3 million renovation. St. David's all-boys Catholic School on East 89th Street slowly took over the neighboring Graham House in 2011, turning apartments into classrooms. The school plans to begin construction on the "re-use project" within the next year.

Community members see an unsettling trend of private schools growing ever-larger. And for Lo van der Valk, president of the Carnegie Hill Neighbors Association, the size of the building is exactly what makes "the Dalton problem" stand out from other school expansions. According to van der Valk, the building is already much larger than the zoning allows for a mid-block building. According to DOB, the zoning laws allow for buildings no higher than 75 feet. The school, says van der Valk is currently 144 feet, and that's without the expansion.

"We think there's a tendency to copy other private schools," said van der Valk. "We see a cascading impact which could radically change other schools too and impact our quality of life. This goes contrary to the character of our community and what we've fought hard against."

But Jay Segal, the lawyer for Dalton School, said that multiple buildings on the block already exceed the height limit.

"We don't think this mid-block area is the kind of brownstone block area that it was described as," said Segal. "One Community Board 8 member had said they want us to give back to the community. Well, what better way than educating young people?"

Segal said the school has held meetings with the surrounding community (even though only 15 neighbors came to the last meeting), put posters up all over the neighborhood, and have promoted transparency. It has discussed ways to ameliorate construction noise as well. It's a similar story with St. David's School, which received approval from the Landmarks Commission last month. John Marino, a representative of St. David's, also said that they have actively engaged with the community.

Yet many neighbors still did not know about the meetings with the Dalton School, and some were not even aware of the construction plan. "A lot of people are concerned, mostly the elderly folk," said Jose Vasquez, the porter at 115 East 89th Street. "So many people have signed the petition."

Jay Segal has declined to discuss construction plans until the expansion plan has been approved by the Board of Standards and Appeals, which would be the next step for the school. If all goes well for Dalton, construction on the roof will begin next summer.