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Construction Starts on Controversial Upper West Side Charter

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

A $500,000 construction project has started so a new charter school can open inside an Upper West Side high school building — but the work could come to a halt if the teachers union and the NAACP win a lawsuit.

Construction workers were seen Monday going in and out of the Brandeis High School building where they city said they're converting an office into a classroom for the Success Academy Charter School and have plans to make a new lunchroom so the charter's elementary students won't have to share the main cafeteria with five high schools currently using the building.

The Success Academy is among 15 charters that the teachers union and the NAACP are trying to stop from taking space inside regular schools the city claims are underutilized.

The union and the NAACP claim these "co-locations" violate a state law that says space and resources, such as libraries and gyms, must be distributed in an equitable way whenever a charter moves into the same building as a regular school.

A judge heard arguments last month and has yet to make his ruling.

Meanwhile, the city agreed to limit construction at the school sites covered by the lawsuit, in case the judge blocks the co-locations from taking place.

A law department spokeswoman, Connie Pankratz, said allowable activities include painting walls or upgrading air conditioners. She said creating a new cafeteria inside Brandeis is also covered because it involves converting the equivalent of four classrooms that are now only used for storage, and will not diminish the space used by the high school students.

Some parents involved in a separate lawsuit over the Brandeis campus think there shouldn't be any work at all right now, according to their attorney Jon Brooks.

The Upper West Side charter is hoping to open in August. It's part of a chain of charter schools run by former city councilwoman Eva Moskowitz. More than 180 kindergarten and first grade students have been accepted.

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