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CB 8 approves school at Queens College

Community Board 8 unanimously approved plans for a combination elementary and middle school to be built on Queens College’s campus last week, but did so with mindful reservations about crowded conditions in the already school-saturated area.

A shortage of school seats in the borough was the primary mitigating factor which pushed through the community board’s approval of the school — PS 499, or the Queens College School for Math, Science, and Technology. The school, which will serve kindergarten through eighth grade, already operates out of several portable trailers on the campus.

Neighbors for Responsible Development at Queens College, a coalition of local housing and civic groups that have been stalwart opponents of the planned school, showed up at the otherwise sparsely attended meeting May 9, voicing their opposition and reservations one last time against plans to build the four-story school on the Reeves Avenue corner of the campus.

In a prepared resolution, Community Board said it was aware that neighboring residents of the college have long endured traffic and parking hardships and that there are numerous schools already in the area. There are more than 25,000 students in schools, including CUNY Law School, John Bowne High School, PS 201, PS 219, Townsend Harris High School, three additional public schools and two yeshivas within a mile of Reeves Avenue.

“Siting PS 499 at Reeves Avenue will exacerbate already burdensome traffic and environmental conditions on streets adjacent to the Reeves Avenue site,” the resolution continued. But it went on to say “Community Board 8 is mindful of the critical need to provide seats for 30,000 Queens school children.”

The board voted 37-0 in favor of the school, which is open to students from around the borough. Construction of the permanent building is scheduled to start in the fall of 2003 and take two years to complete at a cost of $31 million.

The resolution outlined three conditions to be met by the Board of Education, the SCA and Queens College, contingent on the board’s approval:

•    That the SCA, Queens College and the Board of Education construct a dedicated access road for PS 499 from Main Street to the school to divert school-related traffic away from local streets.

•    That the same entities set aside space for school buses and build new, dedicated free parking accommodations on the campus for PS 499 faculty, staff and other PS 499 related vehicles.

•    That the Board of Education and Queens College set aside seats at PS 499 for local children living within two miles of the PS 499 site at Reeves Avenue.

The number of seats to be set aside for local children was not specified in the resolution.

Dan McCormack, a spokesman for School Construction, said it would be up to the Board of E to decide whether or not it would meet the community board’s three conditions. “We can’t make a decision on anything,” he said.

The three institutions are theoretically obligated under city mandate to adjust plans to accommodate any problems forseen by the community by adopting changes requested by the community board. But the board has no real power to block the school’s construction.

Pat Dolan, president of the Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association, which is part of the NRDQC coalition, essentially mirrored the community board’s statements, saying she as a board member and her organization would approve the school’s construction, “but with deep reservations.”

“Our group fought tooth and nail against placing the school anywhere on the Queens College campus,” Dolan said.

“We believe the neighborhood will be inundated by traffic problems brought about the school. That said, we are in support for the simple fact that 30,000 new seats are needed in the borough.”

Everly Brown, a candidate for the 31st Council District seat, spoke out against the school, calling it a “racist proposal.” He said it was a “racially profiled siting designed to place another burden upon a minority neighborhood, which according to the 2000 Census is now made up of 68 percent of African-Americans, Hispanics, American-Indians, and Asians.”

Brown argued for putting the school on the south side of Queens College in Kew Garden Hills instead and keeping it at its originally specified capacity of 700 seats, “which will afford a 50 percent greater opportunity for minorities to attend it. But it is not being constructed there because that largely white middle-class neighborhood has objected to its placement,” he said.

Walter Kowsh, president of the Cedar Grove Civic Homeowners Association, said his organization was not opposed to the school, only the proposed Reeves Avenue site.

“We are not NIMBYs,” Kowsh said. “In fact, we’d like to have this school situated closer to our area of civic concern and have petitioned that it be put in place of the John Bowne HS.”

Kowsh said he believed in a few years the school would build additional floors on top of the planned four-story school “to house the original 700 students and then some.”

“ This high-rise extension will obliterate the sun from most of the homeowners on the adjacent blocks,” he said.

Reach reporter Daniel Arimborgo by e-mail at timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300 Ext. 141.

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