PS 303 opens in Forest Hills after mayor visits borough

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Anticipating the first day of school Tuesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg came to a new school in Corona last week to tout the addition of 18 new school buildings and 11,471 new seats for students around the city.

Queens got the lion's share with seven buildings, the most of any borough. Queens will also get 4,266 seats, more than twice the number of any other borough. Brooklyn will see 2,179 new seats, Staten Island will receive 2,104, the Bronx will get 1,930 and Manhattan will get 992.

"This marks the first year we're going to see a big, big return on our school construction," Schools Chancellor Joel Klein said.

Along with PS 307, Queens got new buildings at the Elmhurst Education Campus, PS 4 in Long Island City PS 244 in Flushing, PS 303 in Forest Hills, PS 305 in Ridgewood and PS 306 in Woodhaven.

Bloomberg toured the new school with Klein, Assemblyman Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights) and Principal Cecelia Jackson, who walked the crowd through the school's gymnasium, cafeteria and auditorium.

"The trains come every few minutes," Jackson said of the school, which sits just south of the elevated No. 7 train line on Roosevelt Avenue. "When you're in here, you can't hear them at all."

PS 307 is designed to help alleviate the overcrowding at PS 19 across the street, which currently has 2,000 students. School organizers said one-fourth of those students would move over to PS 307, which will have a capacity of 1,000 children.

Bloomberg called the new school "a shining example of what a public school in New York City can look like."

He called District 24 "one of the districts most badly in need of more seats," although he and Klein did not go into specifics when asked about whether they were planning for major population growth in communities like Elmhurst and Corona.

"We have a team that analyzes population expansion and overcrowding," Klein said. "Everyone thinks it's so easy to cite overcrowding in a school, but there are a lot of challenges."

The new construction represents the largest number of schools and classroom seats to open in a single year under the current five-year capital plan, Bloomberg said. The $13.1 billion plan includes the creation of 63,000 new classroom seats by 2012, 88 percent of which are either under construction or already complete, he said.

But Bloomberg has his critics. Leonie Haimson from Class Size Matters, said the current capital plan is "far from 'the biggest school construction plan in our city's history,' as the administration falsely claims."

Some 100,000 school seats were added between 1902 and 1905 and nearly half a million seats were added during the 1920s, she said.

Borough President Helen Marshall has said there will be a seat for every child when she leaves office in New Year's eve 2009. Her office warned that the borough still suffers from major crowding at the high school level. The new seats in Queens all appear to be at primary schools.

Dan Andrews, spokesman for Marshall, said the borough has experienced enrollment increases of almost 10 percent in recent years.

"Even if you built new seats, you were sort of running in place," he said.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 6:37 pm, October 10, 2011
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