January 24th, 2022
Drug manufacturing giant Pfizer — which is projected to report industry shattering $80 billion in business for last year thanks largely to sales of its coronavirus vaccine — is sticking charter school kids in Brooklyn with an injection of rejection, school officials said.
Operators of Beginning with Children, one of the first charter schools to open in the city in 1992, wants to open a high school on an empty lot adjacent to its existing middle-grades charter school at 11 Bartlett St. in Williamsburg.
“They have a great record of success,” said Joseph Belluck, chairman of the SUNY Charter School Committee that approved Beginning With Children’s high school grades expansion.
Its elementary school is at 215 Heyward St. and the middle school is on the property turned over to BWC by Pfizer.
But the charter school operators claim that Pfizer — whose storied history as one of the world’s largest drug manufacturers started at its campus in Brooklyn — is being stingy by reneging on a promise to give or sell the vacant lot to the school for expansion.
“Pfizer made promises to our school, our families and our community that they haven’t kept, and they’ve provided no explanation why,” Beginning With Children Foundation CEO Lewson Kurz told The Post.
“They deserve credit for their work on the vaccine but their refusal to engage the community on this sliver of abandoned property is puzzling. Pfizer’s obstinance is denying opportunity to Brooklyn children. We hope Pfizer changes its mind and does the right thing,” added Kurz.
Pfizer offered to negotiate a purchase of the vacant lot at fair market value but cut off negotiations in January 2020, reps for Beginning with Children said. Discussions about the future use of the vacant lot go back to at least 2008.
The property is an abandoned brownfield site and existing buildings were knocked down to do environmental clean up.
Local Brooklyn political leaders also complained about Pfizer’s stall on the use of the property and urged them to be a good neighbor.
“The Pfizer location [next to] 11 Bartlett St. is currently unmaintained, fenced off eyesore that is out of step with the blossoming neighborhood surrounding it. Across the City abandoned or underutilized properties are being repurposed for community benefit. There are no shortages of individuals who are interested in developing this property beyond what it is currently being used for,” Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso said in an Oct. 22, 2021 letter he co-wrote as a councilman to Pfizer Executive VP Sally Susman.
Reynoso mentioned affordable housing as one option and added, “It is our understanding that the Pfizer-owned property also controls the development rights of the Charter School next door thereby inhibiting their development and growth as well.”
“For years the neighborhood worked to support Pfizer while it operated there, we are now asking Pfizer to work to support the neighborhood by allowing the property to be developed,” Reynoso said in the letter co-signed by former Councilman Stephen Levin.
Pfizer, in a statement to The Post, said it has been a good community neighbor, including to students. The company noted it provided BWC charter school with its current building and property for a $1-a-year annual lease in 1992 and then gave them the title for $10.
“As we prepare for the 175th anniversary of Pfizer, we have been diligently working on options for the 0.42-acre Bartlett St. property recognizing that the remaining parcel is the last link to the founding history of the Company,” the statement said.
“Our plans are to retain the last remaining piece of property, and we look forward to sharing our proposal for the site with elected officials and the community of Brooklyn very soon.”
Beginning with Children students was founded by Joseph and Carol Reich, who also helped create the New York City Charter School Center.
BWC students outperformed kids from surrounding neighborhood schools on the state’s 2019 standardized Math and English exams.
Nearly two-thirds of students were deemed proficient in Math — 23 percent higher than nearby district schools and 15 points higher than the citywide average.
In English Language Arts, 52 percent of students met proficiency, eight points higher than surrounding district schools and 5 points higher than the citywide average.
Meanwhile, Pfizer is expected to close its books with $80 billion in revenue for 2021, double its $40 billion in business in 2020. Sales from COVID-19 vaccine and booster generated about half the revenue.
Pfizer could generate more than $100 billion in 2022 thanks to continuing sales of the COVID vaccine developed with BioNTech as well as delivery of its antiviral pill, Paxlovid, to non-hospitalized patients.
German immigrants and cousins Charles Pfizer and Charles Erhart founded Charles Pfizer & Company in a brick building in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood. At the intersection of Harrison Avenue and Bartlett Street, they launched what would become one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical producers. The closing of its Flushing Avenue plant in 2007 was a bitter pill for the community.
Pfizer was instrumental in manufacturing penicillin antibiotics from its Brooklyn plants a century ago — dubbed the “miracle drug” to treat bacterial infections and sexually transmitted diseases. By the mid-1940s the company was the largest producer of the life-saving drug in the world.