Participatory Budgeting 2015 winners announced

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito congratulates constituents at Betances Community Center on April 29.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito congratulates constituents at Betances Community Center on April 29.

Education gets the nod from Mott Haven voters

Eight Mott Haven schools will divide $1 million for new air conditioning and technology upgrades after project proposals to fund them received the highest number of votes from local residents in this year’s Participatory Budgeting initiative.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, whose district includes Mott Haven, introduced the initiative in 2011, as a way to encourage residents to have a say in what local projects should receive funding from her discretionary budget. When she launched the initiative four years ago, Mark-Viverito was one of just four City Council members who used it to back projects their neighborhoods. Now, 24 of the city’s 51 council members have adopted it.

“I want you as constituents to make decisions with me,” Mark-Viverito told a gathering that giddily awaited word of this year’s winners at the Betances Community Center on April 29.

This year, 27 projects were included on the ballot, 16 in the East Harlem section of the Speaker’s district and 11 in Mott Haven and Highbridge. The five items receiving the most votes are annually awarded the funding.

Last year, all five items that were voted in to divvy up the $1 million pot were in East Harlem. This year, however, Mark-Viverito doubled the total amount to $2 million, setting aside $1 million for Manhattan and $1 million for the Bronx.

The winning items in Mott Haven this year include: Installation of air conditioning systems at X224, X 334 and X343 on Brook Avenue, and at PS 161X on Tinton Avenue; and technology upgrades for the Academy of Applied Math and Technology, the South Bronx Preparatory School, P.S. 161 and the International Community High School, all of which share a building at 360 East 145th Street.

Hugo Lanchipa, a computer science and math teacher at the International Community HS, said his school will use its $100,000 share to provide laptops to each of the school’s 400 students. Now, Lanchipa said, there is just one lab with 26 computers for all the students to share. Last year, he said, the school embarked on a new computer technology program that has been hindered by the lack of available hardware.

“It’s just not enough,” he said. “Now we can make this project a reality.”

When the votes were tallied, a number of Mott Haven initiatives were left out, including three that called for repairs for some of the area’s most neglected public housing complexes. Those included a $400,00 ballot item for outdoor recreational spaces at Millbrook Houses; $450,000 for grounds improvements at Patteson Houses; and $600,000 for roof repair at Mitchel Houses. While the school technology and air conditioning projects received 998 and 786 votes, respectively, the three NYCHA items each received around 200 votes.

One resident who had been deeply involved in the Participatory Budgeting process was distraught that the project she had pushed hard for came up short. Wanda Balines was a driving force behind a $500,000 ballot item to have air conditioning installed at 468 East 140th Street, which houses three schools.

Balines’ 8 year-old daughter, Alexa, who is mentally retarded and autistic, is a student at PS 352X, a special needs school inside that building.

“When I dropped off my daughter last summer, she had the worst temper tantrum I’ve ever seen,” said Balines. During the summer, the school is stifling, she said, adding that students there suffer from “asthma, heat stroke, you name it,.” Although she and other parents and teachers bring portable air conditioners to help the children keep cooler during the summers, that has’t been nearly enough, she said.

Ultimately, Balines said, she was disappointed that not enough parents of children at the building’s three schools came out to vote.

“Tomorrow, I’ll be laying the guilt trip on thick,” she said, adding she will start pushing for the project anew when the Participatory Budgeting process begins once again in the fall.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re documented,” she said, “as long as you’re 14 years-old, you should vote.”