Truths emerge about SCA and Dock St.

Turns out, the School Construction Authority may have said one thing about building a middle school in DUMBO — but internally be discussing another.

A concerned DUMBO citizen filed a Freedom of Information Act with the SCA to uncover what exactly they are saying about the proposed middle school site on Dock Street in DUMBO, located within the controversial 18-story Walentas residential tower. UPDATE: We now have the full FOIL documents for you (pdf), and DumboNYC has it all rehashed:

UPDATE2: The Brooklyn Paper has an extensive analysis of the documents, and is sure to include the “entertainingly candid” parts, too (i.e. internal emails).

In a June 7, 2008 Brooklyn Paper article, “City: We don’t need a middle school in DUMBO” — now, the SCA told PS8 parents that “Right now, in this district, we do not identify a need” for a middle school. However, documents obtained by Yassky’s office as part of the FOIL, contradict SCA’s public statement on a few issues. While SCA claim that a public middle school is not needed, a document dating a few weeks earlier (PDF) shows that SCA coordinated with Two Trees to propose a middle school in the controversial development on Dock Street in Dumbo. This document includes a draft term sheet between SCA and Two Trees, but it is unknown how long the negotiations have been taking place.

Mr. Yassky also pressed SCA on researching alternate sites for a middle school in the Dumbo area. During the Borough President Hearing on Dock Street in January, the owner of 205 Water Street expressed interest in working with the SCA to look at the lot as a potential site. (Ref Dock Street foes, supporters clash at hearing, Brooklyn Paper). However, Yassky’s office notes that there are FOIL documents that show that other sites are not being seriously being considered. (PDF) According to Yassky’s office, the developer of One Brooklyn Bridge Park (at 360 Furman Street) also indicated that they have approx 45,000 square feet to dedicate to a new public middle school in an existing building, but the development does not generate revenue for BBP.

The FOIL also indicates that the there may be disagreement internally at SCA as to what $43 million in their capital budget represents. In one place, they indicate it is a stand alone building (PDF), in another they say that is the cost of the buildout from a shell (PDF). That figure stands in contrast to a proposed new public school in Queens that would serve 1,100 students at a cost of $70 million to retrofit, which is different than delivering a shell to specifications. In the Queens school build, the city has agreed to give preference in admissions to students living in three of the seven Queens districts. SCA has not said whether the Dock Street school will serve specific districts.

A spokesman for Councilman David Yassky, who vehemently opposes the Dock Street development, issued the following statement:

“David has fought for years for a middle school for our community, and still believes that our children would be best served by a top-flight school in Downtown Brooklyn. However, the documents disclosed in this FOIL request and SCA’s testimony yesterday clearly indicate that they are doing one thing in private, and saying another in public. While they were publicly sticking by the position that Downtown Brooklyn does not need a middle school as of June of last year, these documents prove that they had already been in negotiations with Two Trees on final terms of agreement. They also continue to insist to this day that they are doing their due diligence by carefully reviewing alternate sites, yet their private correspondence clearly indicates otherwise.

“Brooklyn and all New York City taxpayers deserve a process by which the School Construction Authority gives careful consideration to the cost-effectiveness of a variety of sites, not one by which they allocate over $40 million for a project that has not been determined to be the most fiscally responsible. However, the Authority seems intent on pursuing the Dock Street project without doing their homework. Simply put, they are acting in bad faith, should be forced to answer for their contradictions, and begin an authentic process that carefully reviews the numerous sites our office has provided them with.”

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  • Publius

    This is scandalous. The State AG should open an investigation.

    Take the time to read the PDF of the FOIL’d memos and emails from Jed Walentas/minions and the BoE/SCA. All available on

    Shocking is an understatement. Flat out lying was going on and sabataging of community and governmental efforts to do proper due diligence and site selection for the school.

    Many smoking guns to view on the first day of Spring.

    Curious to hear what all the pro-Dock St. school folks think of this shocking duplicity on the part of the SCA.

  • Nancy

    I think all parties are guilty of shocking duplicity including the neighborhood goo-goos who have been clamoring for a new school for years, but then reject a perfectly sensible proposal because they do not like the developer.

  • Publius

    It’s not because they don’t like the developer per se. It’s because they don’t like our National Monument being diminished by a non-contextual tower. That’s what’s making many not “like” the developer.

    And now that I read all the secret dealings and shenanigans, I “like” the developer a few notches less, and even less the corrupt SCA.

  • nabeguy

    Sorry Nancy, but goo-goo that I am, I’d prefer not to have my daughter go to a school located under a bridge that spews out air and noise pollution from the 125,000 cars that cross it each day.

  • Nancy

    nabeguy, if you want to send your daughter to a school far away from truck pollution, you better start thinking of boarding school in Switzerland.

  • martin schneider

    Councilman Yassky deserves high credit for running down the secret reasons behind the SCA’s apparent love affair with the controversial and highly questionable line-the-pockets-of-the-developer-plan coupled with the hurried and absolute rejection of any alternative, including one right in the back yard of PS8.

  • nabeguy

    I think we should all commend Councilman Yassky for going the extra mile to get this information before the public. Regardless of whether you support the project or not, it is our tax money that is being put on the table here and the opacity and lack of oversight of this process is alarming, if not downright illegal.
    Councilman, I know you’re a friend of this blog, so let me ask you directly about a proposal that I’ve suggested in prior posts, namely the purchase and restoration of St Charles Borromeo School. To your knowledge, has that ever been raised as an alternative to the other plans floating about?

  • Nancy

    The archdiocese is not interested in selling its school. If it were I doubt the SCA would cough up the purchase money plus the sizable rehab cost when instead they could move to a location where all they need to pay for is the interior buildout. It makes more economic sense. Also, what is the big scandal uncovered here? That the SCA did not speak publicly about its leasing deal while it was still in negotiations? Is it a crime for a public agency to make a decision and not change their minds due to (misguided) goo-goo pressue? What’s the problem here other than the SCA chose to ignore local NIMBY reaction?

  • Cranberry Beret

    The emails clearly show the SCA didn’t “change their minds” – they only decided to set up a plan for a Dock Street school because Two Trees convinced them to support its project, not because they shifted position and now think a school in Dumbo is needed.

  • Nancy

    A new school is definitely needed. I had the feeling the SCA didn’t want to incur the cost of building a new one. But then the Dock Street opportunity arose and they realized that they could get a new school for the price of a new school interior. An offer they decided to take. Is that a problem? I think it shows someone is thinking at the SCA. They will never satisfy the NIMBY’s. Sometimes a good public Agency just has to do what is right and ignore the nay-sayers.

  • nabeguy

    Nancy, I’m assuming you’re not a parent or you wouldn’t make such an asinine statment as the Switzerland one. I’m not some neurotic parent who wants my child to be raised in a bubble, just a sensible one who doesnt understand why my child has to be put directly in harm’s way to accomodate a plan hatched behind closed doors and with no public scrutiny between a developer and the SCA . And by the way, trucks aren’t allowed on the Brooklyn Bridge.

  • Nancy

    nabeguy, in case you haven’t noticed, lots of trucks use the BQE and that wraps around DUMBO and runs beneath the promenade. If Dock Street is polluted, it is no more so than Columbia Heights. You obviously are an ideologue and a conspiracy theorist, so you are not to be taken seriously.

  • ABC

    I don’t think the Dock St location is bad, pollution-wise. Certainly no worse than PS8 — and yes, I am a parent.

    And Catholic Charities is hoping to open an early education center in the St Charles Borromeo school building. Not interested in selling. Or that was their line a few months ago.

  • nate

    am I alone in finding the arguments made against the project to be very disingenuous? The site is polluted…the building will overshadow the Brooklyn bridge.. these are asinine points, and I don’t buy them for a second.

  • nabeguy

    iA conspiracy theorist? WTF? How does having legitimate concerns for my child’s well being put me in the same category as Mark Lane? Okay, let’s forget about the pollution factor, and that the area is a category one flood zone and on the wrong side of a major traffic thoroughfare and is infested with rats on streets that you can barely drive a tank over, let alone a school bus. It has such wonderful views of the river! What more could you want from a school? How about an SCA that actually puts our kids welfare in front of a “good deal”?
    And Nate, I hope you have 2 mil burning a hole in your pocket, because that’s what Two Trees will expect you to pony up for “buying” into their version of things.
    Folks, i’m not so stuck in a nostalgic time warp as to be against rehabilitating the area. Sutton Place was built on the foundation of a slaughterhouse, so anything is possible. But please do your research into all angles of the story before you start throwing labels around. For my part, as both a parent and a citizen, I’m not exactly thrilled at the idea of seeing my tax dollars being used to further the dreams of a developer.

  • nate

    nabeguy, now you are just ranting.

  • nabeguy

    Ranting maybe,but not raving, as in the lunatics who would let their tax money be spent on this “gimme” project.

  • Bee Heights

    I live on the promenade and DUMBO sucks. Plain and simple. I’ll go to the shops/restaurants there but come on…live on the hill or die trying! Good luck to the Manhattan outcasts in Dumbo. Now if you want to build a school for my kids down there it’s ok with me.

  • No One Of Consequence

    The thing that’s not being mentioned any longer, and should not be forgotten, is that the *IDEA* of a school is just a carrot so they can bully their way through rezoning.
    There is still nothing in writing contractually binding them to follow through with the “offer.”

  • Publius

    Amen, Consequence.

    This is a major failure of our local political leaders. Particularly Councilwoman Tish James, who supports the rezoning, strongly encouraged CB members including those she appoints and reappoints to support the measure. I also saw Councilwoman James talking with Papa Walentas at Borough Hall following the CB2 meeting where members rubberstamped her rezoning stance. Both were grinning at each other and Papa Walentas toothily smiled and said “This is a great day” whereby she likewise smiled and repeated the phrase.

    I wonder what promises Two Trees made to the good Councilwoman, and why the heck didn’t she bother to get them in writing.

    As I’ve said several times on this blog: If it’s not in writing, it doesn’t exist. Things change. Contracts don’t. Ask the AIG bonus recipients.

  • Carlo Trigiani

    No smoking gun here. Just enough grissle for Yassky to stand his ground, cover his butt and raise more $ for his comptroller campaign.

    For “years” Yassky has been working on this issue. I’m sure he was well aware of the Dock Street negotiations as they were taking place. He chose to lay low and failed to provide any legitimate alternatives while continuing to be an obstructionist when it comes to solving “our” middle school problem. (It’s not “his” as he chooses not to enroll his own children in public schools.)

    Walk the walk David.


  • Harry the Horse

    Do you pro- Dock St, pro- Walentas people have any idea who you are dealing with? You’ve got to be out of your minds to believe anything that comes out of Walentas’ mouth:

    An example:

  • No One Of Consequence

    How would Yassky know? These were secret negotiations that he had to use FOIA/L to get. (Perhaps he knew, but needed the docs for proof.)

  • Carlo Trigiani

    Yassky would have known and should have known as our tax $ pay for a public school liason staffer. He’s had a middle school committee studying the need for quite some time.

    As a city councilman, wouldn’t he have access to the higher ups at the SCA and DOE? I would think he has relationships and access that we don’t. Why wasn’t he gathering these so called alternatives? Was he late to the dance? Maybe. I don’t think he was taking care of business. You may recall, he was running for congress and now comptroller.

    David shouldn’t blame Walentas for working a deal. Effective leaders protect our interests by staying in front of the issues.

  • nate

    Harry the horse’s comments prove the assertion that many people are willing to flush a perfectly good new public school down the toilet because they hate the developer of the building that will house it. Such rabid animosity is self-deafeting. I say put the kids first.

  • BklynLifer

    Hey, folks! Wake up! The SCA NEVER intended to put a middle school in the Bk Hts/DUMBO area, and it never will!

    Capital funding to build new schools is prioritized for DISTRICTS that are overcrowded, not neighborhoods where SCHOOLS are crowded. Bklyn Hts/DUMBO is in District 13, which is UNDER-utilized. Furthermore, middle schools in nearby District 13 neighborhoods are not crowded.

    Most public school students do NOT have the luxury of attending middle school within walking distance of their homes.

    I don’t see how the SCA could or would justify a new school in this area. I think the Yassky-FOILed documents confirm this.


    My suggestion to people who want to make sure there’s a middle school nearby that works for their kids is to start working NOW with one of the nearby District 13 middle schools to accommodate an influx of PS 8 kids.

    It’s too bad the Poo-Bahs of Bklyn Hts didn’t think good local public schools were important before the last 5 or 6 years. We wouldn’t be in this pickle today if our “leaders” had been more fore-sighted and less snobby about public schools.

  • emperor wears no clothes

    Walenta’s hound dogs are all over this board. So transparent. If there was a real interest in kids and schools, only the school would be built, without any housing or retail stores included to line the pockets of the greedy developers. What crooks! About time they are called out for their slimey unprofessionalism. My tiny violin is playing for widdle Davey and Jed who the hound dogs say are the “victims” of naysayers. Give me a break.

  • nate

    there are some serious whack-jobs posting on this blog. sane people need to speak out.

  • Publius

    The NY Post has a good article today about the SCA/Two Trees/Dock Street scandal: