The rejection of plans for the construction of a new secondary school in Maspeth was the result of one of many votes taken by Community Board 5 during their May 14 meeting at Christ the King Regional High School in Middle Village.
Siding with the recommendation of its Zoning and Land Use Committee, the advisory body called for the disapproval of the School Construction Authority’s proposal to build a 1,650-seat school on the site of a former warehouse located at 57th Avenue and 74th Street.In its resolution, board members charged that the school was too large for the area and too close to two other public schools attended by hundreds of school children. Even so, the advisory body suggested that the SCA and the Department of Education should consider an alternate site—the former home of St. Saviour’s Church on Rust Street near 57th Road—for construction of a high school locally zoned to allow students from Maspeth to attend.
The board also voted at last Wednesday’s meeting on a host of other topics in the area including the proposed renovation of a problematic Maspeth intersection, the rehabilitation of the Ridgewood Reservoir and an upcoming carnival at a Glendale shopping center.
Unfit for neighborhood
SCA officials attended Board 5’s Apr. 9 meeting the Land Use Committee’s May 6 session to inform the public of a plan to build a four-story school for children from grades six through 12 at the former site of a Restaurant Depot warehouse. The project is designed to alleviate overcrowding within School District 24 as well as at nearby high schools including Grover Cleveland and Newtown.
Schematics presented by the SCA during the Land Use Committee offered three preliminary designs for the school, which is expected to take up most of the 84,000 sq. ft. property. The design plan includes a cafeteria, library, a 550-seat auditorium and a 8,500 sq. ft. gymnasium.
Prior to the board’s vote, members of the public and the board sounded off on the project during the public forum. Among the speakers was board member Mary Anne Zero, who read a statement against the project on behalf of Maspeth Chamber of Commerce President James O’Kane.
“The chamber feels it would not be helpful to the businesses located in Maspeth along Grand Avenue,” according to O’Kane’s statement. “We feel that an additional school of this magnitude, added to the already school-saturated Maspeth business area, would only have a detrimental affect on our businesses.”
Board member and Maspeth resident Manny Caruana also decried the proposal, charging that the additional students the new school would bring would compound current quality-of-life problems allegedly caused by students of nearby schools after dismissal each day.
“This is a clear-cut case of overdevelopment, and it’s incredible that this particular overdevelopment is being pushed on us by the City of New York,” he said. “To my surprise, I find that [the school officials didn’t] consider the impact of something like this on the community. What they looked at was square footage and how many people could” they fit there.
Proponents of the school plan urged the board to work together with education advocates in the community to bring a new high school locally zoned for Maspeth students. Angela O’Hehir, president of the P.S. 58 Parent-Teacher Association, said that despite the board’s request, it is unlikely the SCA would consider another location in the Board 5 area for a new public high school.
“The School Construction Authority is not going to take a site anywhere else because the money [in the capital plan] is only good until June,” she said. “Let’s work together. It’s going up. Let’s just see what it is that we want, put our heads together and get this thing to work in our favor.”
Local parent Marge Kolb added that overcrowding at high schools in the surrounding area have resulted in some students attending sessions that start very early in the morning or during midday hours. The extra high school seats are needed in the years to come to accommodate students currently attending overcrowded elementary schools in the area, she added.
Board member Robert Cermeli agreed, observing that while the current project as designed seemed too large for the surrounding community, the community and SCA must work together to ensure that a new high school is somehow constructed.
“My instinct was to say, ‘We need a high school desperately,’” Cermeli said. “The community desperately needs a high school that they could relate to and can say is theirs. I think they can build this school on that site or even consider the other site. Look at it before the city makes a $75 million investment of your tax dollars.”
In the recommendation read by First Vice Chairperson Walter Sanchez and approved by the board, the advisory body stated that the SCA failed to provide answers regarding concerns regarding the size and bulk of the school as well as the projected enrollment. Additionally, it was noted, the SCA did not provide in its plans any faculty parking spaces or curbside drop-off areas where school buses or drivers can stop during arrival and dismissal.
Turn Reservoir to Park - Resolution Passed Unanimously by Board
Following a PowerPoint presentation featuring images of deteriorated venues within Highland Park and the Ridgewood Reservoir, the advisory body approved a resolution drafted by the Parks Committee calling for improvements to both locations on the Brooklyn/Queens border.
Parks Committee Chairperson Steven Fiedler narrated the slideshow that provided board members and residents with a view of areas within both greenspaces that are in need of repair. Many of the multi-purpose athletic fields have little or no grass, while walkways have been observed with cracks and “desperately in need of repair.”
While funding has been allocated by the Parks Department and City Council Member Erik Martin Dilan to improve Highland Park and Ridgewood Reservoir, Fiedler indicated that the Parks Department is considering a plan to turn one of the reservoir’s basins—currently heavily forested and inhabited by various plant and animal life—into a new athletic area.
In its resolution, the board called for the preservation of nature that has grown in the former reservoir basins while also seeking improvements to existing athletic fields in Highland Park. The advisory body also called on the mayor, the City Council and the borough presidents of Brooklyn and Queens to annually allocate funding for continuous improvements at both locations.