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The proposal to place three schools on the campus of the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center drew another round of criticism from the community at a sparsely attended public hearing Tuesday evening at Benjamin Cardozo High School in Bayside.
Representatives of the School Construction Authority, the Board of Education's Division of School Facilities, and Superintendent of Queens High Schools John Lee spoke and answered questions at the hearing, which focused on a proposed high school for Creedmoor.
The Board of Education's plans call for a 650-seat primary school under the jurisdiction of School District 26, a 900-seat intermediate school under the authority of School District 29, and a 1,000-seat high school under the Office of Queens High Schools.
Vahak Khajekian, an architect for the Division of School Facilities, emphasized the need for new high schools in overcrowded Queens.
"There is a need of in the neighborhood of 9,500 high school seats in this borough only," Khajekian said.
Khajekian said the four high schools in the immediate vicinity of the Creedmoor site were operating at well over capacity, including: Martin Van Buren High School at 130 percent capacity, Cardozo at 137 percent, Bayside High School at 120 percent, and Francis Lewis High School at 166 percent.
"We need high schools seats and we need them very fast," he said. "As sites come, this is an exceptionally large site. It is a very good site."
But while fewer than 25 people attended the hearing, those who were there continued to air concerns about traffic, having children of different ages in close proximity to each other as well as a psychiatric hospital, and worries that several school agencies could not work together.
Lee also responded to questions about the high school, which has been described as a teaching high school, and said the proposed school's theme was chosen in response to the city's growing teacher shortage.
"This is an academic high school," he said. "But schools need themes to attract students. We have a responsibility to provide this as a possible career opportunity, but the school would offer various careers including teaching."
One parent, Janet Sherman, a member of the Parent Teacher Association at PS 98 in Douglaston, said she thought the project was being planned without contributions from educators. "The speed at which you're progressing concerns us," Sherman said.
Mashiyat Ashraf, the managing architect for the School Construction Authority, said the project was "on the fast track process. If the site is approved, by fall of this year we'd like to have a contractor on board. Hopefully by January or February 2001 construction will start."
Ashraf said he hopes the buildings will be occupied by September 2003.
Other residents raised concerns that the 10.3 acres under consideration for the three proposed schools were not enough because sloping hills and a buffer zone of trees meant less buildable land available for the schools.
Tami Rachelson, the manager of real estate operations for the SCA, said the 10.3 acres constituted the land being purchased, not the land on which the SCA would build the schools.
"It does not represent the total acreage of the site to be built," she said. "The state would not sell us this property without the buffer zone of trees."
Speaking as a member of the community, School Board 26 President and Bayside resident Sharon Maurer also criticized the site.
"There are not 10 buildable acres on that site," said Maurer, who had toured the proposed school site Friday.
"I am so resentful that in the city of New York we are so reactive and not proactive," she said. "You're talking about building schools reactively, throwing them up wherever you can. What you are going to do is a disservice."
Maurer also urged the education officials at the hearing to "find it in your hearts to make the people who are making these decisions aware that we want appropriate sites for our schools."
©2000 Community Newspaper Group
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