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New schools to draw from community

"The many years of work have culminated into this victory for the youth of our community," Council members Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills) and Dennis Gallagher (D-Middle Village) said in a letter they passed out at the Forest Hills Civic Association meeting on the Department of Education's decision not to enroll students citywide.But if the some 300 people overflowing the basement of Grace Lutheran Church felt any relief upon hearing the news, they did not show it.Instead the boisterous crowd bombarded the education, environment and health officials present with other questions about the proposed schools' layout, traffic congestion and site contamination.Ground-breaking for the two 500-seat high schools and two 630-seat K-8 schools is set for this fall after the School Construction Authority bids out a development contract in May, according to education officials. The site, a barren piece of land off Metropolitan Avenue near 69th Avenue, sits on the border of District 24 and District 28, meaning residents from Forest Hills, Glendale and Middle Village have equal stake in the schools. Some fear that the chlorinated solvents found in the groundwater at the eight-acre lot would not be cleaned up in time for the ribbon-cutting scheduled for 2007.Vadim Brevdo, an engineer for the state's Department of Environmental Conservation, assured the audience that the site's soil has been completely remediated and that the water underneath will be cleansed or contained by opening day. But as one skeptical resident muttered "that's your goal, not a promise."Others at the meeting wanted to shift the discussion toward the schools themselves."I'm more concerned about what they will offer the kids," said Nick Comaianni, whose three elementary-age children would be entering the schools when they open.The project's chief architect, Martin Stein, pointed out the benefits of the plan's layout, which adjoins the high schools on one side and the K-8's on the other, with shared facilities in between.According to Stein's drawings, the multi-level middle section would include three gyms -- one holding 750 seats -- a theater auditorium, two libraries and a kitchen that would service four separate cafeterias."It's going to be a fabulous facility and a terrific benefit to the community," Stein said of the overall complex, which he likened to a college campus.Others were not so sure. Many, including Katz, have long expressed the need to have more junior high space in Forest Hills. But combining elementary grades with the junior highs might cause overcrowding and traffic problems, they say."There'll be thousands of people walking day and night up 69th Avenue where I live," said parent Betty Korb to rumbles of agreement. "Students will be throwing bottles at my windows."Reach reporter Zach Patberg by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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