Rumors the city Board of Education is pushing ahead with controversial plans to build a high school along Queens Boulevard at 50th Street were confirmed March 21 when Queens High Schools Superintendent John Lee proposed an 800-student facility to Community Board 2s land use committee.
The Board of Ed has considered the site as a potential school location for more than a year, a choice community members have vehemently protested for nearly as long on the grounds that heavy traffic along Queens Boulevard makes it unsafe and ill-suited.
In a June 2000 meeting, Community Board 2 voted 25-2 against an earlier plan to build an elementary school on the site. Members of CB 2 only officially learned at Wednesdays meeting that the Board of Ed had abandoned its plans for the elementary school.
Lee presented a proposal calling for the construction of an 800-seat high school for information technology on the Queens Boulevard site. The school would accept Queens students by application, with preference given to neighborhood residents from School Districts 24 and 30.
But community leaders made known their displeasure with the idea.
We just dont understand why the school system is still pushing this site, said CB 2 Chairman Joseph Conley at the start of the meeting. We did recommend alternative sites, and its distressing that you come back with a high school now.
Lee brought a team of more than a dozen representatives from the Board of Education, the School Construction Authority, and their consultants, a group so numerous they spilled out of the conference room and into the hall.
He stressed that severe overcrowding is forcing the Board of Ed to act expediently to secure sites for school construction.
Because of the shortage of seats, many students are not permitted to take a full academic load, Lee said. This site, I think, is a viable site for a high school.
In spite of the local controversy, the school proposal has Borough President Claire Shulmans support.
The borough president does support putting a school there, said Shulmans spokesman Dan Andrews. She believes, given the overcrowding we see in the district, that this is a viable site and we can easily work out whatever has to be done to make it safer.
However, those at the meeting questioned whether such a small school, drawing students from across the borough, could make any discernible dent in local school overcrowding.
How is it helping people in Community School District 24? asked Howard Taub, who owns the property and had operated the Stevens appliance store on the site until it closed in late 1999. Theyre complaining that this district is the most overcrowded in the city, but theyre not doing anything to help this particular district.
The school proposal has severely disrupted business plans for Taub and the Stevens family, who had negotiated to lease the storefront to the P.C. Richard & Sons appliance store chain when the School Construction Authority laid claim to the site in December 1999. Since P.C. Richards will not open a store until the threat of losing the site to a school has passed, the storefront has sat empty for over a year.
While Conley began the meeting by asking Lee to convince him the site was appropriate for a school, community board members became increasingly skeptical as they noted numerous inconsistencies in the SCAs report.
If youre planning on going forward on this stuff, youre going to be skewed by the fact that you dont have all the facts, said committee Chairman Stephen Cooper.
Although one representative of the SCA indicated in a report that crossing guards would be provided at certain intersections, Lee admitted the Board of Ed had no intention of funding such a position. Cooper also disputed the SCAs claim that sufficient parking for school faculty was available on streets surrounding the school.
Somehow credibility gets destroyed when someone tells us there is available parking in an area where weve lived our whole lives, Cooper said.
Following the meeting, Taub pointed out huge discrepancies between two counts of the number of accidents occurring along Queens Boulevard near the Stevens site.
According to a report conducted by Ethan C. Eldon Associates for Taub and the Stevens family, 60 accidents took place at the intersection between 1996 and 1998. However, data provided by the School Construction Authority lists only six accidents in those same years.
They dont have their facts in order, and theyre basically trying to pull the wool over everybodys eyes, Taub said.
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.
©2001 Community News Group
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