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City Council OKs new Queens College school

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Citing a severe shortage of classroom space in Queens’ public schools, members of the City Council voted unanimously to approve the construction of a new school on the Queens College campus despite residents’ fears that local streets cannot accommodate the additional traffic.

The vote allows the School Construction Authority to go ahead with planning for PS 499 — the Queens College School for Math, Science and Technology — a laboratory school in Flushing that will select students boroughwide by lottery for 534 spots between kindergarten and eighth grade. The school, which would be built on Reeves Avenue between Queens College athletic fields and a parking lot, has already been operating for the past two years out of trailers set in front of Remsen Hall.

“The dire need to put up a new school at the Queens College campus outweighs any other needs at this point,” said City Councilman Mike Abel (D-Bayside) last Thursday as the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses considered the proposal before the full City Council voted.

Residents have protested the school since it was proposed, insisting the area is already plagued by environmental and traffic problems that would only be worsened by the addition of another school.

Patricia Dolan and David Kulick, co-chairs of the group, “Neighbors for Responsible Development at Queens College,” asked the Council to consider a number of modifications “that would relieve PS 499’s burden on its neighbors.” The request — which included space for school buses to line up, new parking for school staff, a driveway to divert school traffic and a set-aside of seats for local students — were not directly addressed in the city council vote.

To counter residents’ claims that the traffic studies were not performed at peak times and were thus invalid, Kenrick Ou, the SCA’s site acquisition manager, told the subcommittee that two of the three studies were conducted at times when the college was in full session — in April and December of 2000. The other was performed during summer session in June of the same year.

Ou also said buses dropping off students will not congest the surrounding roadways because the school’s driveway is designed to accommodate 11 buses.

Representatives of the SCA told the subcommittee that an explicit solution to traffic concerns could not be devised until the school is closer to opening 2 1/2 years down the line, at which point they can negotiate an agreement to secure reduced-rate parking for teachers.

“Because of the problems at Queens College we are going to do our absolute best effort to solve that, but we do not have a solution at this time,” said Patricia Zedalis, the chief executive for school facilities at the Board of Education.

Terri Thomson, Queens representative on the Board of Ed, told the subcommittee “you have my personal commitment and the Board of Education’s commitment that we will put this on the front burner.”

Kulick said the vote “was not unexpected” but expressed hope that reports of an SCA budget shortfall would mean elimination of the school.

Deputy Borough President Peter Magnani, testifying before the subcommittee on behalf of Borough President Claire Shulman, described the school as “the linchpin in an innovative program that will provide a quality education for our youngsters and a creative training ground for our math and science teachers.”

“Ultimately, it is our children who are the beneficiaries of the highest quality teaching available,” Magnani said.

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

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