Hundreds of residents voiced concerns of potentially overcrowded schools at a forum on the impact of a proposed homeless shelter in Glendale.
It would be irresponsible to put kids in a shelter that you cannot fit into its zoned school district, said Nick Comaianni, president of the Community Education Council for District 24 at the Wednesday meeting at P.S./I.S. 28.
“District 24 is already the most overcrowded school district in the city,” Comaianni said. “This is not a strategic place to house these children.”
Thirty-one of the 39 schools in the district are already over capacity, ranging from about 110 to 150 percent saturation, according to Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley.
Adding the 125 families that are proposed for the Cooper Avenue shelter would mean the children living there would have priority to go to school in the area.
Increasing the number of seats to accommodate these families would be too much of a burden on the schools in the area, Crowley said.
“We need to find nearly 5,000 high school and elementary school seats for children already going to school in the area,” she said. “We have to do everything we can do to make sure [the proposed shelter] turns into a school to house these 5,000 children already overcrowding the district.”
The site was looked at two years ago by the School Construction Authority (SCA) but was deemed inadequate because of its proximity to busy Cooper Avenue and because there was a chemical plant next door, among other things, according to Mary Lease, a representative from the SCA.
However, because Independent Chemical Corporation would now like to sell, adding that land to the land of both the vacant factory and the Hansel ‘n Gretel meat processing plant, which is for sale, means the SCA is re-considering the nine acre plot for a school, Lease said.
To buy the land, the SCA first has to do environmental assessment tests on all three of the sites. At this point, only Hansel ‘n Gretel has agreed to let the SCA on their property to do an environmental review, with the owner of the vacant factory and owner of the Independent Chemical Company denying access, according to Lease. Without all three sites, the SCA will not build a school there, according to Lease.
Samaritan Village, the nonprofit organization looking to build the homeless shelter on the site, wants to lease the vacant factory for 60 years.
The proposed lease has not made its way to City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office yet, according to Crowley.
“We have to keep pressing upon the mayor’s office and continue our fight,” state Sen. Joe Addabbo said. “We have a serious issue regarding the overcrowding of our schools and this is not an issue that will go away.”
There is one possibility that may alleviate the further overcrowding of schools in the area if the homeless shelter is built. The school of origin program is one where children who move from one district to another can stay in the school they attended previously. This is a condition that parents of the homeless children may consider which can help some of congestion.
But considering that District 24 schools are already at 30 percent higher capacity than any other district in the city, adding even a couple of children to the schools would be too much, Crowley said.
Residents of the district asked both Crowley and Addabbo what the plans are going forward.
Crowley said she would make sure the chancellor of New York City Schools, Carmen Fariña, is aware of the issues that are already facing the district even without children from the shelter. Addabbo said he will continue to fight and send letters to the mayor’s office about the negative impact this shelter will have on the community.
But both agreed that residents also need to voice their concerns to the comptroller’s and mayor’s offices to show there is great concern for their children’s education.