UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — A new universal pre-k facility has added 90 seats to the Upper East Side, which means 90 families no longer have to trek down to Lower Manhattan to send their children to school, city officials announced Wednesday.
The new 11,500-square-foot facility on the corner of Third Avenue and East 95th Street opened on time for the 2018-2019 school year and is part of a push to add pre-k seats to the Upper East Side neighborhood, city officials said.
With the addition of 90 seats on Third Avenue and 180 seats coming to East 76th Street in 2019, the neighborhood will offer more than 900 pre-k seats by next school year, City Councilman Ben Kallos said Wednesday. It's a big improvement from when universal pre-k was rolled out with just about 120 seats in a neighborhood home to more than 2,000 four-year-olds.
"We are now taking big strides in fulfilling the need for pre-k seats on the Upper East Side. Building b building we are working with the city to open up more [pre-k] seats so that every four-year-old in my district can get the benefits of pre-k without having to commute an hour away."
For the 2017-2018 school year 736 families applied for pre-k seats on the Upper East Side, but the neighborhood only had 550 seats, officials said. Families that didn't match with schools in the neighborhood had to send their four-year-olds to another school in New York's second school district, which spans all the way down to the southern tip of Manhattan.
The Third Avenue facility that opened this year was built in partnership with private developer Gary Barnett of Extell Development, Kallos said. When Kallos heard Extell was developing a 30-story luxury tower on the block, he met with Barnett and asked that the developer consider a pre-k facility for the site.
"When new construction starts in neighborhoods usually you'll see elected officials show up with their hands out. And often you'll see those hands get filled with campaign contributions, campaign cash," Kallos said. "I have to be honest. I do show up with my hand out, but I'm not asking for campaign contributions — I'm usually asking for pre-k seats."
City Councilman Keith Powers, who also represents parts of the Upper East Side, was on hand for Wednesday's ribbon cutting and said it's "hard to hear" from parents who's children don't get chosen for pre-k seats in the neighborhood. Powers said the good news is that the city continues to find "willing partners" to develop seats in the neighborhood and uphold the promise that all children will have access to pre-k.
Bonnie Laboy, the school district's superintendent, praised the work done by the School Construction Authority on the "absolutely beautiful" new facility.
"The research is clear: Free, full-day, high-quality early childhood [edcation] is fundamental to a student's academic success. And I could not be prouder to stand here to launch the beginning of this school year with 90 seats for our earliest learners."