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Weakening economy kills plans for middle school at 75 Morton St.

Last month, after an extended campaign to relieve overcrowding in Greenwich Village schools elicited a commitment from the DOE to try to use a state-owned building on Morton Street as a new middle school, families and elected officials held a festive rally. But as the economy falters, it appears now that the celebration was premature.

The Empire State Development Corporation, the state agency that owns the building, has withdrawn plans to sell the building, at least for now, citing the too-low bids it received from private developers while the building was on the market, the Villager reports today. The state agency currently occupying the building will stay there for the time being, making it impossible to renovate the building for use as a middle school in the fall of 2010, when neighborhood activists had hoped a new school could open.

In early August, the city said it would formally ask the state to use the Morton Street building as a public school rather than auctioning it off to private developers. But the Villager reports that ESDC officials say the city did not submit any request in writing by the time the bidding process closed on Aug. 13. Asked by District 2 activists at the Panel for Educational Policy meeting on Monday about the city’s apparent failure to lobby for the building’s use as a public school, Chancellor Klein said the situation was fraught with behind-the-scenes complications. “If there is a way for us to successfully navigate those waters, we will be interested in doing that,” he said.

And according to DOE press officer Marge Feinberg, the DOE hasn’t given up on building new schools in overcrowded areas. “The [School Construction Authority] is always looking for appropriate space for new schools,” she wrote in an email to GothamSchools. “One of the SCA’s biggest challenges is locating vacant space in NYC.”

After compiling an extensive slate of potential school sites in the Far West Village last spring, District 2 and CB 2 officials say they are prepared to help SCA meet the challenge. “The community board is not putting all of our eggs in one basket,” Community Board 2 chair Brad Hoylman told the Villager. “We’re continuing to look for other sites, Pier 40, N.Y.U. and others. It’s crucial that we keep the pressure on.”

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