The Julia Richman Complex

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Hunter College: Hands off JREC!

Testimony by Assembly Member Micah Z. Kellner

Public Hearing on Julia Richman Education Complex and Hunter College Land Swap

Manhattan Community Board Eight, September 18, 2007

My name is Micah Kellner, and I am the Assembly Member representing the 65th Assembly District, including the Julia Richman Education Complex. Thank you to Committee Co-Chairs Sarah Chu and George Fuchs for providing us all with an opportunity to speak today.

I want to begin by saying something about JREC. Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time at JREC. Two weeks ago, I spent a morning visiting with the staff at Urban Academy as they prepared for the new school year. Today I sat in on a photography class there, and I was amazed by what I saw. What started as an assignment to report on community resulted in each student researching the community board district needs statement where they live. Everyone talks about the need for more one-on-one involvement with teachers, smaller class sizes, having schools do more than just ‘teach to the test,’ and at Urban Academy I saw students sitting in a roundtable debating ideas and asking thoughtful questions of their teacher. This is an environment that instills a desire to learn and teaches young people how to think. JREC is a rare treasure of New York, and a national model for how schools should be.

We are here today because Hunter College has proposed to demolish the Julia Richman Education Complex to build a new science and health professions building. Demolishing JREC would displace four public high schools (Urban Academy, Vanguard High School, Talent Unlimited High School, and Manhattan International High School), a public elementary school (the Ella Baker School), and the P226 School for Autistic Children, a public school serving autistic children aged 12-14. All together these six schools serve over 2000 elementary and secondary students. Hunter proposes to relocate these six schools to land it owns at its Brookdale Campus at East 25 Street and the FDR, more than two miles away.

Hunter College has a legitimate need to expand its facilities. It is beneficial to the City that our CUNY schools continue to provide state-of-the-art science and research facilities to train health care and science professionals for future generations of New Yorkers.

When a powerful public institution like Hunter College clashes with neighborhood schools over desirable Upper East Side real estate it is incumbent on us to carefully examine all the options and consider the costs and benefits to the public as a whole. I believe that Hunter College has yet to adequately address some important issues raised by the community.

Hunter should explore expanding at Brookdale; implementing a shuttle service

Hunter needs to respond to community requests that it explore making use of the land it owns at Brookdale for its expansion needs. I understand that Hunter College prefers to have a new building that is walking distance from nearby institutions and other Hunter buildings, but many universities in New York City face similar challenges and have buildings that are spread out. These universities provide shuttle services to their students, an option that Hunter College has been asked to explore. A preference by one public institution for a more convenient campus is simply not a sufficient rationale to uproot six schools.

The future of Ella Baker, P226 School for Autistic Children, and other programs

Ella Baker was designed to serve the working parents of Sloan Kettering, Cornell Medical Center, and Hunter College. The school’s proximity to these institutions is fundamental to its purpose. How can Ella Baker continue to serve these workers’ families on East 25 Street?

As a strong advocate for people with disabilities, I am particularly concerned that this move will negatively impact the well-being of students at P226 School for Autistic Children. The neighborhood surrounding JREC is particularly well-suited to serving autistic children. Also, P226 staff and faculty have worked hard for over ten years to develop filed placements for students in the neighborhood. These relationships take years to develop and are not transferable.

It would also be a significant loss to JREC students to lose the Mt. Sinai Medical Center located within the JREC complex, where many of these youth receive primary health care. There are several other important programs whose future is uncertain: the Center for Inquiry in Teaching and Learning, First Steps Daycare, and the Maxine Greene Center for the Arts.

Loss of classroom seats in the Upper East Side

While most of the students at JREC do not come from the immediate neighborhood, hundreds do. Hunter College has yet to offer any mitigation for a proposal that would address this substantial an impact on the neighborhood. Now is not the time to be displacing classroom seats – particularly elementary school seats – in this neighborhood. In fact, we should be building new schools on the Upper East Side.

Best use of public resources

A CUNY school selling off publicly held real estate to a private developer partly in order to finance rebuilding six schools downtown is bad public policy. The Save JREC Campaign wrote to CUNY’s trustees to point this out and also to question whether or not this real estate swap contemplates Hunter College’s ability to expand in the future. Their letter also reminds us that in the past few years over $30 million in public funds have been invested in making JREC a state-of-the-art complex. It is incumbent upon CUNY to due its fiduciary duty to the public by answering these important questions.

Teachers, faculty, parents, students, and neighbors of JREC all tell me that they love their complex, its location, and its configuration. JREC is more than a neighborhood jewel; it’s a nationally renowned success. Every possible alternative for Hunter College’s expansion must be explored to avoid a plan that demolishes JREC. I urge Hunter College to take a step back and re-evaluate. I am confident that a solution can be found that meets the needs of Hunter College while preserving our schools on the Upper East Side. I hope that you really listen to the concerns raised by the community this evening.

Thank you again for the opportunity to speak tonight.

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