The SCA released its revised plans for the school in a special presentation to Community Board 5 on Wednesday, January 14, at Christ the King High School.
Under the new plan, the school would be a high school only, with a student capacity of 1,100 students. Original SCA plans for the facility called for a joint intermediate and high school for 1,650 students.
The school is scheduled to open in the fall of 2012.
The significant downsize was welcome news to CB5, whose leaders have been calling for the project to be scaled back for more than a year.
Will Havemann, a spokesperson for the Department of Education (DOE), said the department decided to reduce the size of the project in response to input from local residents.
"We went to the community with the [original] proposal and the community voiced its concerns," Havemann said, "so we took the feedback and revised the proposal."
Vincent Arcuri, chairman of CB5, said the smaller school would be a better fit for Maspeth. But Arcuri said SCA's revised plans do not meet several other major community concerns about the proposed school.
CB5's issues with the new plan, said Arcuri, are its lack of off-street parking for teachers, bus drop-off lanes and, most importantly, the absence of local zoning for the school that would give enrollment preference to Maspeth residents.
"The architectural redesign on the part of SCA was very good but the questions we have are still not being answered," said Arcuri.
Havemann said DOE does not grant local zoning for schools.
"We don't do that for high schools anywhere across the city," said Havemann. "It’s against school policy."
There are some schools that remain locally zoned, said Havemann, but all of them were built before DOE Chancellor Joel Klein was appointed by Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Under the current administration, said Havemann, no schools have been zoned to give preference to neighborhood residents.
Havemann said local school district zoning necessarily limits a school's ability to achieve required enrollment levels and precludes parents from the broadest possible range of school choices for their children.
"We want to give schools as much flexibility as possible in attracting students," Havemann said.
Advocates in Maspeth of local school zoning, like CB5 District Manager Gary Giordano, contend the measure would reduce overcrowding in the school district, which already has two crowded schools in close vicinity to the site where the new one will be built.
As a compromise at the Maspeth school, Havemann said DOE has "proposed that priority would go to Queens students over students from other boroughs."
Community leaders rejected this proposal at the meeting as an inadequate.
"We are not going to stand for this school unless we are assured it is locally zoned," Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley said at the meeting.
Speaking after the meeting, Giordano said the community board would push DOE to consider making an exception to their local zoning policy.
"You would think that a policy decision could be made instance by instance for a school to be zoned for local teenagers," said Giordano. "I think this would be an appropriate instance for that to happen."
Havemann said the DOE does not anticipate it will change school zoning policy for the new Maspeth school, though the agency will continue its dialogue with CB5 on the issue.
"We take their concerns very seriously," said Havemann. "We're very happy that we'll be able to bring a high school to the community of Maspeth."
Giordano said either CB5's Land Use Committee or Executive Committee would meet in the coming weeks to continue discussing the revised school plans.
Besides the zoning issue, said Giordano, CB5 also plans to continue pushing for bus drop-off lanes at the new school. The lanes would allow school buses to pull off the road when picking up and dropping off students, reducing their exposure to traffic. Giordano said the drop-off lanes would especially benefit the 100 special education students who are expected to attend the new high school.
Giordano said the SCA has signaled its willingness to install drop off lanes, also known as a cutout, but the agency has said they must be approved by the Department of Transportation (DOT).
"The SCA as far as I read this intends to include a cutout in their plan," said Giordano. "It's a question of if the DOT approves it."
CB5 has asked to meet with SCA again in February. The next public hearing on the school has not been scheduled yet, Giordano added.