NEW YORK – For a mere $6.5 million, New York City’s School Construction Authority renovated a former clothing store on Fifth Avenue into a “state-of-the-art” facility for 18 students to participate in its new, free pre-K program.
“I was incredulous,” Community Education Council 20 president Laurie Windsor told the New York Post. “This is so much money. So much money on a site that only houses only one class.”
Windsor told the news site that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration was desperate to meet demand in the Bay Ridge area for his new universal free pre-K program and dumped the money into the city-owned building to create classroom space.
“I think there was a desperation to find seats, especially in this district,” she said.
The renovations cost the city about $362,222 per pupil, which was about $160,000 per seat more than the next most expensive renovation in Staten Island, for creating partitions, pouring concrete slabs, adding sprinkler systems and HVAC, and other upgrades.
Local education activist Leonie Haimson told the Post De Blasio’s pre-K program has been a nightmare, and the ridiculously expensive renovations are only the tip of the iceberg.
“In the rush to expand pre-K, serious mistakes have been made – egregious renovation costs, worse overcrowding in many public schools, and contracts to vendors with insufficient vetting,” Haimson said.
“The reality is that early childhood does not end at age four, and many experts say that the excessive focus on pre-K while ignoring classroom conditions including class size in subsequent grades does not benefit kids.”
Others pointed to a severe lack of oversight on construction projects overseen by the SCA as the primary driver for the runaway renovation costs.
“The lack of transparency and oversight of the SCA has been a longstanding problem,” Patrick Sullivan, who served on the Panel for Educational Policy, told the Post. “It operates without even the minimal governance over contracting that the PEP provides for DOE spending.”
In total, city officials set aside $593 million to create about 7,400 new spots in the city’s pre-K program, and they’re defending the multi-million price tag to create the 18 slots in the former Bay Ridge storefront.
“We repurposed a valuable city-owned property and renovated it into a state-of-the-art facility to provide additional free, full-day, high-quality pre-K seats in a high-demand community,” education department spokeswoman Tonya Holness told the news site.