BASIS School to open in Red Hook this fall, by George Fiala

The BASIS Independent School received permission to run a Red Hook School at a March 25 hearing of the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA). The school, which will be located at 556 Columbia Street, is located in an IBZ manufacturing zone, and needed the approval to begin construction. They immediately announced their opening this fall, despite the fact that the start of construction had to await this approval.IMG_3248

BASIS is a growing nationwide chain of schools that until now have operated charter schools. Their new Brooklyn location, and another school they are building in San Jose, California, will be their first private schools. While they have chosen to build in Red Hook, close to the Red Hook Houses, their target market is to the wealthier communities surrounding Red Hook, and most of their students will end up being driven, bused, or ferried back and forth.

A BASIS press release states ” BASIS Independent Brooklyn will provide nearly 90,000 square feet of classrooms, laboratories, industrial art labs, and all-weather outdoor play areas, as well as a gymnasium and a theater. Starting with two each year, it will eventually offer several dozen full scholarships to residents of Red Hook Houses. ”

Corbin Laedlin, who spearheaded a letter writing campaign against the school, commented in an email to the Star-Revue:  

“I’m not surprised that the Board of Standards and Appeals approved the BASIS Independent School’s permit application, it was pretty clear at the previous hearing that our our testimonies appealing to the BSA’s sense of social justice had fallen on deaf ears.  Which also wasn’t surprising.  Bodies like the BSA are not designed to promote social justice or to provide community members genuine participation in decision-making.

What has been the most disappointing about this whole thing is how many of my neighbors bought into BASIS’s song and dance about bringing benefits to our community. I don’t understand how one would believe that an institution setting up shop in Red Hook to serve rich, mostly white families, that has shown zero commitment to socioeconomic diversity, and offers no need-based financial aid, would genuinely be interested in giving back to Red Hook. Two scholarships a year for Red Hook’s children is public relations, not justice. Just a little bit of research reveals the BASIS organization’s true face, particularly when one looks at BASIS charter schools’ deceptive “success by attrition” model and the BASIS organization’s ties to the Koch-brothers funded Goldwater Institute and the American Legislative Exchange Council. “

Another group against the school were the Red Hook West Tenant Association and the Gowanus GBX. Their reason was that the school would interfere with industry in the area, lead to an erosion of zoning and a loss of industrial jobs. Phaedra Thomas, who often represents GBX, did not respond to a request for a comment by presstime.

There were also locals in favor of the school. Their reason in many cases was that a school is a much better land use than a parking lot for buses and their exhausts. Others thought that something was better than nothing, and Wally Bazemore is anxiously looking forward to job and scholarship opportunities at the new facility.

Council member Carlos Menchaca covered many bases with his statement to the Star-Revue:

” When the Board of Standards of Appeals was reviewing the Basis school application, I raised a number of concerns about whether their application  satisfied the technical requirements for the special permit they were requesting.  Now that Basis has received this special permit, I plan to work hand-in-hand with our residents and businesses to make sure that this school provides meaningful community benefits.  We need an improved community engagement process that looks quite different from the way the Basis school initially introduced itself to our Red Hook neighborhood.    

There are land use issues that arise when you have a school operating in an area with a concentration of industrial businesses, and I look forward to collaborating with all parties to ensure that we minimize any disruption to the existing industrial business community.  I am steadfastly committed to the Industrial Business Zones in our communities, and I do not want this special permit to set a precedent for eroding our protection of manufacturing-zoned land.”

BASIS has made some promises to the neighborhood which include a few scholarships and use of their gym and auditorium, but these promises are not legally binding. While California government enforces Community Benefit Agreements, New York is a more business friendly state and CBA’s are contingent only on the good will of the business, and hopefully the nudging of our city councilman.

Some who are familiar with land use and zoning issues, feel that the granting of this waiver by the BSA gives a great financial advantage to BASIS, and for this reason the community should share in some of their gains.



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