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Not my fault, principal sez - Midwood H.S. head defends status of new library

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While blame for a students’-only library has been cast his way, the principal of Midwood High School insisted this week that he is without fault in this burgeoning controversy. At issue is whether a library in the school’s $27.5 million science annex building at Bedford Avenue and Campus Road will be open to the public after school hours. The 18,000-square-foot annex is being built on a former schoolyard, where initially, community members preferred a playground with surrounding parkland. Ultimately, the prestigious public high school won out and the annex project moved ahead. It is expected to be completed in two months and will open in the fall. To engender public support, it was promised that the 6,000-square-foot library would serve the entire community, members of Community Board 14 have said. But promises never made can’t be broken, Principal David Cohen told this paper. He said that since he took over the school in 2006, “Not a single person has asked me if this was going to happen.” “The last thing I want to do is create a controversy…[but] I have never been faced with an opportunity to say yes or no. I’ve never been faced with that decision.” Fred Maley, senior manager for the School Construction Authority (SCA), recently told a Community Board 14 committee that a commitment was indeed made by the school to keep the library open. “Frankly, it doesn’t look good for the School Construction Authority,” he said. Maley also told the committee that he had a conversation with Cohen, who told him that he’d never make a commitment nor did he have the staff to run the library, even if he did. Cohen told this paper, “No one from the Department of Education, no one from the community has called or asked for a conversation about this ever becoming a reality.” Once he became principal, the school has had no say over any aspect of the design, he said, adding that his predecessor, former principal Steve Zwisohn, did have some input into the design. “The principal claims there are no funds to keep the library open after hours,” Florence Valentino told Community Board 14 at its March 10 general meeting. Valentino, the co-chair of Community Board 14’s Education, Libraries and Cultural Affairs Committee, said promises were made under the leadership of Zwisohn, and Lewis Frohlich who preceded him. Both were in agreement that the library should be open to the public, Valentino said. Asked if budget cuts played any role, Cohen said they did not. “The budget cuts just happened a few weeks ago,” he said. Cohen said he is only “vaguely aware” of conversations that have taken place with the community in the past. “This was presented to me as a rumor and never as a reality.” Cohen said he heard that the library would have a dedicated entrance, complete with a “gating system,” to accommodate the public’s use. “But the building was not built according to the specs that would have made it a reality,” he pointed out. Cohen said his understanding was that the initiative was to be a joint effort between the school and the public library system. Asked if, as the school’s top boss, he should have been more involved with the plans, Cohen had this to say: “The school, the library system, and the SCA all play a role. As the principal, there are a lot of things for us to take care of.” “My first responsibility is to run my school,” he added. Still, the principal said he is making an effort to be more cognizant of community outreach, in an effort, “to improve community relations.”

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