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Hearing postponed, but school still in works

Queens High Schools...

By Dustin Brown

After postponing a required public hearing on a proposal to construct a high school on Queens Boulevard in Woodside, the Board of Education is still pushing ahead with the controversial plan, a representative said last week.

Queens High Schools Superintendent John Lee presented the proposal for an 800-seat information-technology high school at Queens Boulevard and 50th Street to a Community Board 2 land-use committee meeting last month.

Several community leaders and residents vehemently oppose the proposal, contending that heavy traffic along Queens Boulevard makes the site unsafe for such a high concentration of students.

Board of Ed spokeswoman Margie Feinberg said the Board has no intention of abandoning the proposal, but only postponed the April 19 meeting to gather more information about the site.

“We wanted to make sure that all the questions that are being asked are going to be fully answered by the time we have the hearing,” Feinberg said. “It will be rescheduled. We are committed to the site.”

The School Construction Authority, which carries out building plans for the Board of Ed, called CB 2 on the morning of the scheduled hearing to inform officials of its postponement, CB 2 Chairman Joseph Conley said.

“We don’t know what that means because in the past when they’ve postponed a meeting, they come back with a change in the proposal or a change in the plan,” Conley said. “Our best hope is they’ve come to their senses on it and they’re ready to cancel it, but we don’t know.”

Community Board 2 voted overwhelming against a proposal submitted last year to construct an elementary school on the same site.

The opponents stress that 74 pedestrians have been killed on Queens Boulevard since 1993, nine of them within 10 blocks of the proposed school site.

Borough President Claire Shulman is in favor of the school and called opposition to the proposal “ridiculous.”

“Suppose I put it two blocks off Queens Boulevard,” she said. “They still have to cross Queens Boulevard. I have to take sites where I can get them.”

The uncertainty of the proposal has wreaked havoc on business plans for site owner Howard Taub, a member of the Stevens family, which had operated the Stevens appliance store on the property for over 60 years until 1999. Taub had signed a lease with P.C. Richards & Sons in 1999 to bring the appliance chain to the site, but the company will not move into the space until the school battle is resolved, leaving the storefront currently empty.

Although Taub opposes the proposal, the SCA has the power to condemn the property in order to construct the school.

“My intention is to do whatever it takes to prevent them from taking the property,” Taub said.

The Stevens family had hired a consulting firm, Ethan C. Eldon Associates, to study area traffic. The company contended in its report that traffic-safety data from the SCA was “erroneous and incomplete.”

The consultants said the SCA under-reported the number of traffic accidents at the intersection, showing only 27 accidents at the corner of Queens Boulevard and 50th Street between 1996 and 1998, instead of 66 accidents which the consultants said was listed by the city Department of Transportation.

SCA spokesman Dan McCormack said the Eldon report is misleading because it primarily lists traffic accidents involving two vehicles, which he said is not relevant to the question of school safety.

SCA consultants specifically analyzed data for vehicle-pedestrian and vehicle-bicycle accidents, McCormack said, and found that only three accidents of that nature occurred at that intersection between Jan. 1, 1993 and Sept. 15, 1999. None of them were fatal, he said.

“That’s the information that’s germane to the traffic safety issue,” he said.

McCormack said the SCA drew its data from state DOT records, which he described as the standard source for such analysis, while Eldon’s report was based on city DOT records.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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