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Plan to Build a New High School in Queens Collides With Local Sentiment

Amid widespread overcrowding in New York City’s public school system, it might seem counterintuitive that there would be resistance — of the very angry and full-throated sort — to the opening of a new school.

But that has been the case in the Bayside neighborhood of Queens. The city proposed building a new high school there to help relieve some of the chronic pressure on the local school district’s six existing high schools, which officials say are operating at an average of about 40 percent over capacity.

Many Bayside residents, however, have mobilized against the proposal, arguing that a new school would add to the area’s traffic troubles and destroy the character of the blocks near the planned location. Some of the area’s elected officials have joined the critics.

The opposition found its fullest voice to date at a sometimes raucous community board meeting in Bayside on Monday night.

“This is not only a disgraceful proposal, it’s an entirely disgraceful process,” State Senator Tony Avella, whose district includes Bayside, told a packed auditorium at Marie Curie Middle School, M.S. 158.

school were Kim Russo
At the site of the planned school were Kim Russo, left, Michael Alicino and Susan Macinick, with a petition against the school. Credit Uli Seit for The New York Times - nytimes.com

Mr. Avella, who has become something of a standard-bearer for the opposition, jabbed his index finger at two city representatives sitting in the front row. “Where is the cooperation?” he asked. “Where is the dialogue?”

The New York City School Construction Authority, which is responsible for the planning and building of the city’s public schools, hopes to build the new high school on the site of the Bayside Jewish Center, which has been trying to sell its building.

The authority signed a contract in August to buy the property, pending a public approval process. While the school has not yet been designed, city officials said they expected it would accommodate 739 students and would provide urgently needed relief to the serious overcrowding afflicting District 26’s existing high schools.

The district, which covers several middle-class and affluent neighborhoods in northeast Queens, is one of the city’s highest achieving public school districts.

But the schools’ excellence has also increased their popularity, helping to push student populations well over capacity. The highly regarded Bayside High School was at 161 percent capacity during the last school year, Lorraine Grillo, president and chief executive of the Construction Authority, said in a letter to a member of Queens Community Board 11, which includes Bayside. Francis Lewis High School, in nearby Fresh Meadows, was at 199 percent capacity, she said.

In arguing for the site, Construction Authority officials have noted that the Bayside Jewish Center is across the street from the playing fields of Bayside High School, which sits three blocks away. They have also pointed to Community Board 11’s latest Statement of District Needs, in which it described its schools as “dangerously overcrowded” and called for “a new school built or leased, to relieve overcrowding.”

And they have said that in the past decade, the agency built 10 high school buildings or annexes in Queens, providing more than 10,000 new seats, yet none have been built in District 26.

A two-person delegation from the authority took the same messages to the hearing on Monday, a meeting of the community board. Following a 45-day period for public comment, which ends on Nov. 20, and the completion of an environmental impact review, the authority is to submit the site for approval by the City Council, probably early next year, officials said.

At the meeting, which was attended by more than 150 people, resident after resident stood up to denounce the proposal, warning that a new school at the intended location — the corner of 32nd Avenue and 204th Street — would clog the roads, worsen the neighborhood’s parking challenges and destroy the area’s suburban ambience. Some raised the specter of students’ cutting classes and loitering and littering.

Only three speakers, of about 30, welcomed the project.

Critics attacked the authority’s process for selecting a site, saying it should have involved community input from the beginning — well before a contract was signed.

Some speakers argued that since the overcrowding in Bayside was partly caused by students traveling from other parts of the city, new schools should be opened in those areas instead.

Several speakers directed their fury at Paul A. Vallone, the councilman who represents Bayside. Opponents of the proposal have complained that he has not taken a sufficiently aggressive stand against the project. His position on the matter could influence the rest of the Council, they contend.

“Can a council member be impeached or recalled?” one speaker asked, provoking a chorus of cheers and whoops.

At the conclusion of the two-hour meeting, the community board overwhelmingly rejected the proposal, with only one member voting for it.

On Monday, Mr. Vallone issued a statement saying that as a result of the vote, he would “stand in opposition to this site, despite the community board’s repeated requests for a specialized high school in the district for nearly a decade.”

A representative from the Construction Authority, however, said the city would nonetheless press forward with its plan for the new high school.

Janet McEneaney, a community board member, said on Tuesday: “I was really heartened last night to see that the residents of our community came out so that everyone could see what they want. I was disheartened that it makes no difference in the process. The process is so flawed that what the community wants means nothing.”

Source: nytimes.com

Plan to Build a New High School in Queens Collides With Local Sentiment обновлено: Ноябрь 4, 2015 автором: L.A.Newsman
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