Using Demographics in Your School Construction Plan

By Joetta Sack-Min

In Lower Manhattan, the area once devastated by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks is thriving. New apartments and condominiums are rising high, businesses are moving in, and huge office complexes under construction nearly guarantee the boom will continue.

What city planners -- and the school district -- didn’t anticipate were scores of young families moving into trendy neighborhoods and sending their children to the area’s public schools. In Tribeca and Battery Park, which many residents believe have the best elementary schools in the city, New York officials are scrambling to find more classroom space and plan new facilities to alleviate overcrowding.

It’s a remarkable reversal of the decades-long shift to the suburbs, and like some other cities, New York is dealing with the irony of excess classroom space in some neighborhoods and overcrowding in others.

Enrollment projections -- and the ensuing debate over whether to build or close schools -- always have been a moving target for districts. But recent years have brought about some unexpected demographic shifts, including the arrival of new immigrants, and a faltering U.S. economy and housing market have made the job all the more difficult.

“Part of it is art and part of it is science when it comes to demographics,” says Carl Baxmeyer, a planner and senior associate with Fanning/Howey Associates, Inc., a national school architectural and engineering firm. “The element that’s more difficult to get a handle on is the intangibles. How many people are moving into the area? Are they young people? Young families? Older people?”

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