Starting the Conversation

ECF and AvalonBay are eager to continue the dialogue, and share our plans for this new multi-use development. We want to hear your views and answer your questions.

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about the project, the three new public schools for East Harlem students, permanently affordable housing, employment and economic benefits for East Harlem residents and business and the revitalized Marx Brothers playground.

What is the project at East 96th Street?

The New York City Educational Construction Fund (ECF) and its development partner AvalonBay Communities, through a public/private partnership, have proposed a mixed-use development which includes the following:

  • 2 new state-of-the-art buildings for 3 high schools (COOP Tech, Heritage School and Park East HS)
  • 1,100 to 1,200 new apartment homes
  • Over 300 units of permanently affordable housing
  • A 1.5 acre revitalized and upgraded playground with new turf ball field
  • Up to 25,000 square feet of new retail space
  • Adjacent to new 2nd Avenue subway station

The project will replace the existing School of Cooperative Technical Education (COOP Tech) with a new facility and build an additional school building on the site to house two other East Harlem schools: the Heritage School and Park East High School. The site consists of an entire city block bounded by First and Second Avenues and East 96th and 97th Streets.

Currently, the site houses COOP Tech on the eastern side and the Marx Brothers Playground on the western side. The project would include a residential tower at the corner of Second Avenue and East 96th Street with 30 percent of the units reserved for permanently affordable housing, as well as a retail component at its base that will be ideal for a local food market. The project would also reconstruct and revitalize the Marx Brothers Playground, which is jointly operated by the DOE and the New York City Parks Department.

What is ECF?

The NYC Educational Construction Fund's mandate it is to encourage comprehensive neighborhood development by constructing mixed-use real estate projects which feature new school facilities. Under this mandate the ECF boosts the capacity of the New York City Department of Education (DOE) to construct new facilities and improve current schools, thereby increasing the number of seats for the entire school system. The ECF was created by the New York State Legislature in 1967 and since that time has constructed projects that have added over 18,000 school seats, 4,500 units of housing and 1.2 million square feet of office space in New York City.

The ECF builds combined-occupancy structures on city-owned land conveyed to the ECF by the City of New York. The school facility portion of the mixed-use project is financed via the issuance of tax exempt bonds with a term of up to forty years. ECF uses ground rents, lease payments and/or tax equivalency payments from the non-school portion of projects to finance construction of its school facilities. Future revenues from the non-school portions of the development are used to pay the debt service of the school facility. Through these innovative public-private partnerships, ECF is able to allow the City of New York to accomplish more than it otherwise would be able to. And with this development opportunity, ECF is able to bring educational and economic opportunity to East Harlem, so that more children will have access to quality education leading to empowering employment, and more families will have access to safe and affordable housing.

How tall are the proposed buildings and where will they be located?

COOP Tech will move into a new eight-story building on Second Avenue and East 97th Street. A separate new nine-story building on First Avenue between and East 96th and 97th Streets (where the current COOP Tech building sits) will house both Heritage and Park East High Schools. At the corner of Second Avenue and East 96th Street, a 68-story residential apartment building is expected to house between 1,100 and 1,200 units at a height of 760-feet. The major public benefits of this project – three new public high schools, approximately 300+ permanently affordable apartments, and a reconstructed Marx Brothers Playground – will all be achieved without NYC taxpayer money and by leveraging private investment. In order to accomplish this, certain height and density is required to make the project feasible.

What factors were considered when configuring the site?

ECF’s and AvalonBay’s goal is to build three new state-of-the-art high schools with the best possible facilities to help students succeed. Educational facilities including specialized classrooms, auditoriums, gymnasiums and cafeterias have very different purposes and construction methods than residential apartments. Therefore, the school buildings will be separate from the residential building. The Department of City Planning has mandated that the residential tower be constructed at East 96th Street and Second Avenue to best utilize the transportation infrastructure including access to the new Second Avenue Q line subway station. For safety reasons, City Parks Department and the Department of Education are requiring that the new playground be located midblock between First and Second Avenues.

What is the history of this site and how will it affect the character of the neighborhood?

In the late 1800’s, this block of East 96th Street was the site of a horse barn used when horses transported New Yorkers up and down Second Avenue, which was later replaced by a facility to house trolley cars for the same purpose. The property’s role in providing educational opportunity began in 1941 with the building of the Machine and Metal Trades High School. Its recreational contribution to the neighborhood began with the establishment of the playground in 1947, later named after the Marx Brothers who lived on East 93rd Street.

For the first time in more than three decades, three new high schools will be built in East Harlem, marking a major opportunity for students and families. The addition of permanently affordable housing will improve access to quality housing for low and moderate income families. The Marx Brothers Playground will be rebuilt with modern enhancements. New retail space along Second Avenue will also be an improvement to the neighborhood, providing new employment opportunities.

Is this project part of the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan?

The East 96th Street project is not located within the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan, but it aligns with the plan’s goals and values. This project addresses capital and capacity needs facing East Harlem schools while expanding career and technical education programs at COOP Tech and creating superior learning environment for Heritage and Park East High Schools. It also creates approximately 300+ permanently affordable apartments with varied levels of affordability, and increases employment opportunities for East Harlem residents. Additionally, the Marx Brothers Playground will be rebuilt to help meet the needs of existing residents and schools.

Which new schools are included in this project?

The primary public benefit of this project is the construction of three new public high schools in East Harlem:

  1. Replacement of the existing COOP Tech High School with a brand new facility.
  2. Replacement and relocation of Park East High School to a new building.
  3. Replacement and relocation of The Heritage School to a new building.

Will the schools be closed during construction?

No. All three high schools will remain open during construction, and will be physically relocated to the new buildings on 96th Street when ready.

What are the public benefits of the new high schools?

This project leverages private investment to construct three new, state-of-the-art high schools in East Harlem, a neighborhood that hasn’t seen a new public high school built in over three decades. Benefits include:

  • Alleviating overcrowding at all three high schools
  • Replacing obsolete classroom, gym, cafeteria and auditorium spaces at all three high schools with brand new, modernly equipped facilities
  • New and modern shops and programs for popular trades programs at COOP Tech that cannot be properly accommodated in the existing, outdated building
  • Private space for one-on-one student counseling that does not currently exist
  • Fully ADA compliant facilities.

How is affordable housing incorporated into the project?

Understanding that the availability of affordable housing is a major concern throughout New York City, particularly in East Harlem, one of the primary goals of this project is the creation of hundreds of permanently affordable apartments, which will be available to existing families in East Harlem on a priority basis. 30 percent of the total number of apartments will be permanently affordable, which is anticipated to be approximately 300+ units.

Will the affordable apartments be available to East Harlem residents and what income levels will be considered?

Half of the 300+ permanently affordable apartments will be targeted to families currently living in the East Harlem community, residing in zip codes 10029 and 10035. The remainder of the affordable apartments will be available to the general public through the city’s standard affordable housing lottery managed by HPD. While the income requirements are not yet final, affordable households must average 60 percent of AMI. Within that requirement, a broad range of income levels are currently being considered in order to maximize the accessibility and affordability of the new housing. We are working with the city and soliciting input from the community to make the best determinations.

What is AvalonBay’s experience in building affordable housing?

AvalonBay recognizes that the availability of affordable housing is a major concern throughout New York City, and particularly in East Harlem. To date, AvalonBay has constructed, owns and manages 1,650 quality affordable housing units across the tristate area. All of this affordable housing is integrated with market rate housing in the same buildings. Recent projects include the construction of 142 permanently affordable apartments at our AVA High Line and Avalon West Chelsea buildings on West 28th Street. The proposed East 96th Street project will border with Yorkville and East Harlem – two vibrant communities that are experiencing vigorous growth and upward pressure on rents. Additionally, the opening of the new Second Ave Subway’s East 96th Street station earlier this year – providing extension of Q line subway service to the East Side – will inevitably increase the desirability of the neighborhood as a great place to live.

What efforts are being made to provide employment opportunities for East Harlem residents?

AvalonBay wants to enable community residents to benefit from the construction and permanent jobs that will be created by this project. That is why – working with local elected officials, community leaders, local nonprofits and others – we have established local hiring as a main goal for this project. As a starting point, AvalonBay will work with the City’s HireNYC program to hire people from the City’s workforce development programs. We will encourage the City to focus HireNYC initiatives in the local communities, particularly East Harlem, by targeting recruitment efforts, hiring events, and collaboration with workforce programs in the East Harlem community.

How many and what types of jobs will be created by this project?

The project will potentially create as many as 1,000 new construction and permanent jobs. AvalonBay will work with the City and community-based organizations to place an emphasis on hiring local minority and women-owned businesses and providing internships for Coop Tech students seeking to transition to permanent employment. The project will include up to 25,000 square feet of new neighborhood-friendly retail space. This new development, adjacent to the new subway station, will generate meaningful economic activity and more vibrant street life in the neighborhood.

ECF and AvalonBay are looking at a number of other strategies, in collaboration with community partners, to create programs providing economic benefits to the East Harlem community. These workforce strategies will also align with the recommendations and priorities included in the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan, where it was identified that community stakeholders are seeking to encourage local employers, including building management companies, to hire local residents. AvalonBay and its contractors will also be offering apprenticeships for COOP Tech students during the construction.

How will small businesses in the community be affected?

AvalonBay understands the community’s desire to see even more opportunity for the success of small, local businesses, particularly in the East Harlem community. By increasing the availability of both affordable and market rate apartments in the neighborhood, the project will provide a broad range of new customers to support neighborhood businesses, particularly grocery stores, retail outlets and restaurants, and the continuing presence of the playground and school will continue to draw additional foot traffic to the neighborhood.

What improvements will be made to the Marx Brothers Playground?

Designed to address community needs, extensive new improvements will be made to a new Marx Brothers public playground, which will be revitalized to at least the same size as the prior playground. A new multi-use turf ball field is currently being planned, along with children’s playground and passive recreation areas. The City Parks Department will oversee the design of the playground to ensure it meets appropriate design standards and the needs of the schools and broader community. ECF and AvalonBay will continue to seek input from DPR, Community Board 11, the local community and interested stakeholders on the design of the playground. It is expected that the park will feature a new improved turf field and related athletic facilities.

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