NYU Donates Furniture, Trash to Grace Church School, the New Tenant at Cooper Square

Discarded chairs at Cooper Square
Discarded chairs at Cooper Square
Ward Harkavy

Did you hear? NYU got a Gold STARS rating for its stellar environmental practices this year! Awesome! Greenwich Village neighbors and preservationists, you can rest easy -- the potential transformation of your neighborhood, however scary, is at least in eco-friendly hands.

Except...we were perplexed to see piles and piles of handsome furniture being removed from an NYU building all last week, and sent directly to an untimely death at the back of awaiting garbage trucks. We even spotted an NYU recycling bin being scrapped. What gives?

NYU has vacated its perch at 38-50 Cooper Square, next to the Voice headquarters, and has handed over the building as is -- fully furnished, garbage included -- to the new tenant Grace Church School, which will be opening a high school there in September 2012.

The GCS Head of Schools George Davison told us, "NYU very graciously donated the furniture to us." The deal: NYU leaves everything in the building. GCS takes what they can use. GCS organizes donations for the rest. GCS handles the disposal of whatever's left.

From NYU's stock, Davison said the GCS will be keeping $300,000 in equipment (currently in storage in the Voice's basement). GCS has also been able to donate an estimated $20,000 in furniture and equipment to Christodora and George Jackson Academy.

But, Davison said, "Of course that means we have to take care of emptying the building, so there was an advantage for NYU, too."

Yes, there certainly was. A maintenance worker at the site, who requested his name be withheld, said NYU left an entire room of bags filled with trash and recyclables behind. By his estimate, crews also had to get rid of a lot of good chairs, file cabinets, chalkboards, TVs, and DVD players. When we asked, Davison said that most of the pieces slated for destruction were damaged or unusable, and that storage is expensive and difficult to find.

Although GCS handled all of the logistics, NYU actually gets the credit (read: tax write-off) for the donations. Surely, then, the responsibility for waste generated should also fall on NYU. But a university spokesman told us he wasn't sure why we were choosing to focus on NYU's role.

Note: NYU has a full administrative department devoted to the tracking and disposing of its campuses' furniture and bulk items. GCS has a general facilities team, and its Head of School was at Cooper Square personally supervising handover of furniture to recipient organizations on both Thursday and Friday.

In a detailed environmental assessment covering FY 2007, NYU's Asset Management office said that though they were able to reuse or donate about 2,500 hardware and furniture items,

...thousands of potentially reusable furniture and office equipment items are discarded annually, in spite of the strong efforts of the Asset Management Department to recover and transfer these items to another NYU office in need. Discarding these goods may result in hundreds of thousands of dollars of avoidable procurement annually.

We've asked NYU for more current numbers on their bulk item waste management, and will update you when we hear back.

Correction: As Davison points out, NYU is tax-exempt and therefore cannot get a tax write-off. "They get credit because good will is important to them," Davison wrote.


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