Mary Leas, SCA project manager, presented (View Presentation) an altered capital plan fit to meet Mayor Bloomberg’s request that the department slash $2.8 billion from their budget.
Leas said the Department of Education (DOE) needs the residents of District 24 to make their priorities known to best serve the community while making cutbacks.
“We have to make very hard decisions on how the money is spent and you have to make them too,” she said. “The capital plan is not set in stone. It is a living, breathing document.”
Projects planned for the new period include keeping existing schools watertight as well as a proposed four new schools for the district.
“There’s a lot of action in District 24,” she said, citing that although the district was able to add 3,200 seats for projects through 2010, it wouldn’t be enough. “We have a lot of work to do,” she said.
Although their location has not been established, three of the four new proposed sites would need to serve the most highly stressed areas of Corona, Lefrak City and Elmhurst. Glendale and Ridgewood are priority areas for the fourth school.
The proposed addition of schools was met with both kudos and criticism with residents speaking out on issues of overcrowding in the schools and the congestion the schools would create in the community.
The new capital plan came after Community Board 5 struck down the SCA’s initial plans for a school at 57th Avenue at 74th Street, near highly trafficked Grand Avenue in Maspeth.
“We went back to the drawing board to come up with the ideas that will be both useful to the community and palatable,” said Lorraine Grillo, SCA chief of staff, who added she hoped Community Board 5 would vote on the new plan and work to influence the City Council to do so as well.
Councilwoman-elect Elizabeth Crowley, who spoke at the meeting, said she is in favor of a new school but only if it serves local families exclusively.
“We’ve never had a community high school here and parents are forced to send their kids to private schools,” said Crowley, who then spoke disparagingly of Grover Cleveland High School. (Video)
In an interview after the meeting, Crowley sought to explain her comment further.
“I regret how it came across,” she said. “I should have backed that up with explaining about the overcrowding. We haven’t been able to give the kids at Grover Cleveland the best possible education we can because we don’t have the seats. If we can alleviate the overcrowding it would correlate with better graduation rates,” she added. “Those kids helped me with my campaign and they told me its overcrowded but they didn’t even need to tell me that. The numbers speak for themselves. ”
Crowley added that she is in favor of the new school for Maspeth, but wants it to be smaller than the one the SCA is planning. She also wants an opportunity to look further into the plans.
Angela O’Herir, a mother in the community who attended the meeting agreed with Crowley’s sentiments.
She said Community Board 5 is out of touch with the families of District 24.
“They have no children who go to these schools. We need these schools for our children,” she said. “Our children need to be in the area and not have to take a bus or a train to get to school.”
Walter Sanchez, chairman of the Community Board 5 Land Use Committee, which made the recommendation against the school, countered O’Herir’s assessment of the situation. “Community Board 5 has the responsibility to look at all aspects of the plan,” he said. “It might be difficult for the lady to understand, but we have to look at the traffic implications, the parking situation, the size of the building compared to the surrounding neighbors and the impact of the number of new people to the area. We are far from out of touch, we just don’t work in the vacuum of just caring that our children can walk to a high school.”
Of the community board’s decision, Sanchez indicated that at this moment he was not planning to ask the board to reconsider its negative vote.
“We need for them to build something responsibly,” Sanchez said. “Four stories, 1,600 students, a combined high school/junior high school, no additional parking, and the absence of an area where school busses can let off students without stopping traffic on the busy streets is not our idea of responsible planning.
“That’s what they showed us, and their attitude of ‘you’re getting it our way anyway’ is why traffic on Grand Avenue in front of P.S. 58 is impossible every morning,” he added. “Bad planning. We recommended a cutout with a curb and fence between the street and sidewalk, so school busses get off the street to let students out. It’s safer and traffic moves on the avenue, not having to stop for the busses. I don’t know, are they really doing what’s safest for the kids?”
O’Herir also criticized the school board for failing to address the needs of Maspeth.
“(The plan) says Corona and it says Elmhurst. We take care of Glendale and Middle Village,” she said. “What about Maspeth?”
Another resident spoke out against the problems P.S. 58 and other new schools have brought to the community:
“This school has been nothing but quality of life issues since it was built,” the neighbor said. “I don’t think the community will be much in favor of bringing in more students with no police presence, no parking and no buses.”
Community Education Council (CEC) 24 member Bill Kregler addressed the comments by telling audience members the blame for overcrowding does not solely fall on the Department of Education, but is a citywide epidemic.
“The bottom line is New York is overpopulated,” an agitated Kregler said. (Video) “There is no place to send our kids to school. Get used to the idea that you’re going to have a high school. You want to keep quality of life then start making quality of life decisions across the board.”
Kregler’s comments were met with applause from much of the audience.
Crowley added that plans to downzone Glendale, Maspeth, and Middle Village are her “top priority.”
CEC president Nick Comaianni added to the heated debate by pointing a finger at Mayor Bloomberg.
“We say downzone, he says build more. We have a mayor who’s not listening to the Community Board,” Comaianni said.
The meeting turned more contentious when former CEC member Marge Kolb said she urged the SCA not to accept the revised capital plan because it didn’t provide enough to meet the districts needs.
She also attacked the CEC’s acceptance of the plan, accusing them of being pawns of Comaianni and demanding they turn their attention to providing a kindergarten through 8 school for the children of overcrowded P.S. 128 instead of focusing on the current plans.
“The committee board should speak their minds and not listen to Nick Comaianni,” said Kolb.
Kolb continued making her point for well over her allotted 3 minutes to talk when she was overruled by Comaianni, who fired back, “Thank you for bringing this up for the 100th time, Marge. The CEC is able to speak it’s own mind. They don’t need me to tell them.”
He criticized her complaints, citing that her agenda serves the schools her children attend while detracting from other schools in need.
“We voted on it, you lost. Accept it,” he said.
(Editor’s Note: Walter Sanchez, who is quoted in this article, is the publisher of the Queens Ledger Weekly Newspaper Group.)