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Planned new school in Maspeth divides residents

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Representatives from the city's School Construction Authority unveiled a proposal at CB 5's April 9 meeting to construct a four-story school at 73-35 57th Ave. in Maspeth that would include one middle school and two high schools with a total of 1,600 to 1,650 students. Residents said the community needed its own neighborhood school, but were less enthusiastic about specific elements of the proposal, including a lack of parking and the close proximity between the new site and other local schools."Our kids deserve to have schools in our neighborhood," said 66th Street resident and parent Mary Dalton. "No 10-year-old should have to get on a bus to go to school. It would be a tenant you'll know that would be there for 100 years. It won't be a McDonald's with a 24-hour drive-through. We need to make it happen."Mary Leas, the SCA project support manager, said no decision has been made on the proposal and that Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council would have final say on the plan. CB 5 would have until April 28 to hold a public hearing and vote on the proposal, she said.The proposed school's entire building would encompass 190,000 square feet with a 45,000-square-foot footprint, said Stanley Dahir, the SCA director. He said the building would contain an auditorium that could seat 550 people, a high school-sanctioned gymnasium and an auxiliary gym. No architect or engineering firm has been chosen for the project, he said.Dahir said the design plans for the school, which would have grades six through 12, would be complete by April 2009 if the project is approved. He said it would take three years to construct. The school would have a staff of 170 people, he said.Leas said city intermediate schools are often locally zoned, but high schools take students from across the borough. She said she did not know whether the combined school would be locally zoned."We're talking about occupancy four years down the road," she said. "The [city] Department of Education makes changes as they go along."Residents had mixed views of the plans. Some said the combination of the new school and other local schools, such as PS 58 and IS 73, would result in students swarming the neighborhood streets."Is somebody asleep at the wheel?" CB 5 member and Juniper Park Civic Association President Robert Holden said. "People complain when kids from [Maspeth's] IS 73 get out of school and hang out. This place is going to be unlivable."But Joseph Suraci, a Middle Village attorney who is currently campaigning in the special election to replace City Councilman Dennis Gallagher (R-Middle Village), said he supports the school."We have a balancing act," he said. "We have a problem with overdevelopment. But we're talking about our children. Queens has the most crowded schools in the city. Kids are being taught in trailers. They should be taught in a civilized environment."But residents said they were unhappy that the new school would not include any parking, arguing that many high school students drive to school. Leas said the DOE's policy is not to provide parking for teachers."Our way of life is threatened," CB 5 member Manny Caruana said. "You cannot believe the School Construction Authority. They are going to shove something down our throats."Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

Updated 6:58 pm, October 10, 2011
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