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Students open new wing with songs, pageantry

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Students clad in stars and stripes marched visitors through the bright halls of Long Island City’s PS 166 last Thursday in a patriotic celebration of the school’s new wing.

But the buoyant dances and shiny costumes were only the superficial trappings of a more serious mission. The students had moved into the new space less than one week before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, which some students were able to see from their classroom windows.

“The adults have not done the greatest job with the world we live in,” Principal Lorraine Cecere recalled having said to the children when she visited classrooms after Sept. 11. “The future is in your hands.”

That theme was central to the hourlong celebration of the new addition, which Cecere lauded for creating the necessary space to educate a student body that comes largely from immigrant families.

“By providing us with this new wing, you are helping us make the American dream come true,” Cecere said.

The four-story addition houses a cafeteria in the base and three levels with six classrooms each, providing space for 450 more students and improved food service.

Before the new wing was built, the school had been operating at 122 percent of capacity and students were divided among four lunch periods, the first of which started around 10 a.m.

Borough President Helen Marshall and former Borough President Claire Shulman participated in the ribbon-cutting along with a litany of public officials, including state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris, state Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, City Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Woodside) and Queens Board of Education representative Terri Thomson.

“The future is yours,” Gioia said. “Whatever you want to be, you will be.”

The project, which Newsday reported opened a year behind its original completion date and $10 million above the original budget estimate, is one of many in the pipeline for Queens, where schools are more overcrowded than in any other borough.

Although Superintendent Angelo Gimondo had been told a new wing could not be built onto the school, a Board of Ed architect discovered that the original blueprint had already made provisions for an addition, he said.

“When you have a dream, sometimes it seems like it’ll never happen,” Cecere said. “Everyone kept telling me there’s no space to give you.”

Marshall credited Shulman for her aggressive devotion to getting school construction completed, most notably through a “war room” where she and her staff considered and monitored project sites.

Her own commitment to the school projects would be as strong, Marshall assured.

“You can pester me all you want to,” Marshall said.

When the red ribbon stretched across the doors to the new cafeteria at PS 166 in Long Island City was finally snipped at the end of the ceremony, observers poured into the room to find a second- grade class standing in formation with plastic hats and vests adorned with American flag patterns. They soon broke into dance to the tune of “We Love the U.S.A.”

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

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