The School Next Door News

| 03 Aug 2015 | 04:20

The divide between some Yorkville residents and the Chapin School appears to be widening since the school began after-hours and weekend construction to expand their cafeteria capacity while students are out on summer break.

Residents at 531-533 E. 84th St. next to the school say construction goes on nearly around the clock and has led to numerous phone, internet and cable outages, as well as a fire that caused them to evacuate their apartments. The school, meanwhile, says it’s been a conscientious neighbor, noting that the after-hours work is fully permitted for.

“This work is being performed on an as-of-right basis in accordance with permits obtained from the Department of Buildings,” said Chapin in a statement. “Because it is imperative that the school restore its ground-floor and below-grade levels to a safe condition by the time the school reopens on Sept. 9, the construction manager has obtained DOB permits allowing work to continue after hours and on weekends.”

A spokesperson for Chapin said the work involves interior excavation and renovation of the basement for the construction of cafeteria space. As it stands, he said, lunchtime at the upscale private school, which has an enrollment of 750 students, entails massive overcrowding, and kindergarten students are forced to eat in their classrooms. Lunch periods span from 10:40 a.m. to 1:40 p.m., he said. Construction on the expanded eating area began in May and is expected to last nine months.

The spokesperson said there’s no evidence that work at the school has led to phone, internet and cable outages, nor that the work contributed to a transformer failing earlier in July, as neighbors have alleged. “Frankly it’s not clear whether it was related to the construction or not,” said the spokesperson.

Time Warner Cable, however, indicated that construction at the school did indeed cause a service disruption.

“Earlier this summer there were a few instances in which construction at the school affected our power supply,” said Time Warner Cable spokesperson Eric Mangan. “As soon as our technicians received safe access, we made repairs to restore services.”

As for the fire, it was ignited by a spark that occurred during construction, according to the Chapin spokesperson. The building was evacuated for an hour, as was the adjacent residential building. The spokesperson said numerous inspections of the job site, including immediately after the fire, have led to zero violations, noise or otherwise. He did says that “the school admits there is a lot of noise in connection with this work.

But locals say the volume and intensity of the summertime work is an attempt to spare Chapin students the same noise and service interruptions that Yorkville residents in the area are currently enduring, and is a continuation of a pattern of disregard for the community that the school has displayed.

“There are trucks, large work crews and major traffic diversions nearly every day in association with the current project,” said Ginger Holton, who lives at 531-533 E. 84th St. and was forced to evacuate during the fire.

Holton said the service outages began in mid-June soon after the construction work at the school began in earnest. “Cable outages again started occurring around July 22 and that is when Time Warner Cable again went to the Chapin site and we learned a transformer blew,” she said.

Lisa Paule, who also lives at 531-533 E. 84th St., emailed a Chapin official complaining about the transformer failing and what she said were related service outages on July 24.

“My neighbors and I have had a Time Warner Cable outage of internet, T.V. and phone yesterday and today, which I understand this evening is a direct result of your construction work,” wrote Paule. “This is not acceptable and must be remedied immediately. Your construction crew must take measures to ensure this does not repeat. This is outrageous.”

Tom Palermo, the facilities manager for Chapin, replied to Paule by saying the transformer did indeed burn out but that nobody knows why. “Things happen,” he said, according to emails provided to this newspaper. “If you like, please tell them to place the transformer in your building and not on Chapin property.”

Jim Clynes, chairman of Community Board 8, said the outages are not Chapin’s fault, and that the school has been a good neighbor throughout the negotiations over the expansion.

“The problem was with a Time Warner transformer which coincidentally happens to be located inside the school. The malfunction had nothing to do with the school construction. A Time Warner employee came in and repaired the transformer in a matter of 10 minutes,” said Clynes. “Chapin has provided CB8 with monthly construction updates and interim reports as situations arise. They have held meetings for the surrounding neighborhood, which I was so proud of that I had CB8 co-sponsor them. I’ve never seen a private school reach out to the community to this degree.”

Chapin said the school has a 24/7 phone line and email address to field questions and concerns from the community, and provides construction notices and updates on its website. The spokesperson claimed after hours and weekend work has been halted a number of times due to complaints that have been received by way of the phone line.

The construction comes even as the school is awaiting a decision from the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals on a series of zoning variance requests that will allow it to build a glass-encased gym on the top floor, and add locker rooms and performance art space. In total, the school is seeking to add three floors onto its eight-story building at 100 East End Ave.

Chapin officials claim the expansion is necessary to meet their evolving needs but will not result in increased enrollment. The K-12 all-girls private school is amongst the most exclusive in New York. Representatives of the school estimate the construction would begin in early 2016 pending BSA approval and wrap up by the end of 2018. More worrying to local residents is that the bulk of that project would also have to take place in summertime and during non-school and weekend hours, according to Chapin officials.

Locals have also expressed doubt that Chapin won’t eventually seek to increase enrollment, which they claim would lead to further traffic congestion during drop-off and pick-up times as school buses, limousines and SUVs block East End Avenue and 84th Street.

CB8 rejected Chapin’s application outright in January, citing concerns with the construction schedule, increased traffic congestion and how the building would look upon completion. The school forged ahead with its application to the BSA, who according to the city charter must take into consideration the community board’s opinion when making their decision.

The BSA is holding a public hearing on the expansion Sept. 1, but so far has not indicated when they will make a decision on the school’s variance requests. A BSA spokesperson did not return a request for comment.

Meanwhile, Holton says she and her neighbors are stuck with the same quality of life issues that occurred when Chapin last expanded in 2006. In a letter to the BSA urging them to deny the variance requests, Holton likened Chapin to “an island unto itself” that has been minimally involved in the community.

“Traffic congestion and safety concerns in the neighborhood are already at the breaking point due to the Chapin transportation dynamics,” she wrote in a letter to Josh Saal, a project manager at the BSA. “Adding scaffolding, construction trailers, et cetera and taking out a large area of space on East 84th Street for yet another massive Chapin building project is not at all in the best interests of the city and in particular the residents of the Upper East Side.”

Chapin officials maintains they have been and continue to be good neighbors throughout their expansion efforts.

“As a member of the Upper East Side/Yorkville community for over 80 years, Chapin well understands and is sympathetic to the temporary disruptions to quality-of-life that construction can bring,” said the school in its statement. “The school has taken extensive measures to be responsive to its neighbors, and is committed to continuing to do so in an effort to ensure that these important improvements to serve its academic mission are carried out with as minimal impact to neighbors as possible.”