By Adam Kramer
Representatives of the School Construction Authority and politicians drew the ire of community leaders, parents and residents last Thursday as they unveiled a proposal to convert a section of the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center into three schools for southeast and northeast Queens.
The School Board 26 meeting at MS. 172 in Floral Park was the first public forum held on the conversion of the 10.3-acre section of Creedmoor, which is bordered by the Cross Island Parkway, Commonwealth Boulevard and the Grand Central Parkway. Public transportation is very limited.
The proposed site sits next to another 20-acre site currently in use by Creedmoor, which Geraldine Prishivalko of the School Construction Authority said is not for sale yet.
“We have the first option on the land,” she said.
The Times/Ledger has learned that Triangle Equities, a developer from Whitestone, has responded to a request for proposals from the Empire State Development Corp. to develop the 20-acre parcel of land. Triangle said in a letter obtained by the Times/Ledger it is interested in building a state-of-the art supermarket, additional residential units and what was called “a congregate care facility.”
Many residents at the meeting were angry over the School Construction Authority plan, which they thought was already a done deal, and expressed concerns over which school district would have jurisdiction over the schools as well as transportation and child safety issues.
The Board of Education said the plan calls for a 650-seat primary school, which would fall under the jurisdiction of School District 26, a 900-seat intermediate school under the authority of School District 29 and a 1,000-seat high school under the control of the Office of Queens High Schools.
Bernice Siegal, a parent who lives in District 26 and legal counsel for Councilman Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis), said she was concerned that three separate organizations would have authority over the schools. She said she envisioned an educational complex or campus-type setting under the jurisdiction of one organization.
“Where else could we recreate, quite frankly, what they have in the suburbs?” she asked. “Where else could we create a setting where we have prekindergarten to high school?”
She said as the plan stands now there will be three school buildings with children coming from all over the borough, which could be a wonderful setting as long as the community can come to grips with an influx of automobile traffic.
School District 26 stretches from Bayside to Glen Oaks including the neighborhoods of Little Neck, Douglaston, Bellerose and Floral Park. School District 29 covers the southeastern Queens neighborhoods of Queens Village, Cambria Heights, Hollis, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.
The more than 150 residents of northeast Queens who braved the cold and snow to attend the meeting were concerned how traffic caused by the influx of the 2,500 students who would be bused and driven to the schools would affect their quiet residential neighborhoods.
Richard Hynes, president of the Bellerose-Hillside Civic Association, said there are three entrances to the proposed site and questioned what it would take for 2,500 children to get in and out of the area.
“If it takes two years for the city to put up a stop sign,” he said, “how are they going to do this?”
Councilman Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis) who was part of the Creedmoor working group, said in a statement the three new schools were needed to ease overcrowding.
“Elementary school parents will want assurances from the school safety division of the NYPD that accommodations will be made to separate the schools' populations in the elementary, middle and high schools,” he said.
Parents voiced similar fears, saying they were afraid that schools for older children in close proximity to schools for younger children could present problems. They said their community was concerned that older children might be tempted to pick on and harass the younger children.
“It is irresponsible to for us to be putting three schools in this area,” said Peter Heymann of Glen Oaks Village. “Schools are separated to protect kids.”
“If you want to point a finger at someone who caused this to happen,” said state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), “I stand before you.”
He said he became aware of space on the Creedmoor Campus two years ago and brought forward the idea of putting schools on the land to former Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew and Borough President Claire Shulman.
He reminded the crowd that if they decided against the plan, he was not sure where the schools could be built due to the lack of land in northeast Queens. But he said the plan would not continue in the face of community opposition.
“I am a little bit embarrassed about the whole plan,” said Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D-Bayside).
He said he planned to fight the proposal because of the jurisdiction issue, the concern about mixing younger and older students and concern about not rushing through a plan that must be handled properly.
The second public meeting was held Monday at Community Board 13's monthly meeting in Queens Village.
The crowd of 75 people voiced similar sentiments about the proposed schools on the Creedmoor campus, pointing to three separate buildings, traffic problems and jurisdiction.
“The proposal presented is nothing more than placing three buildings in close proximity,” said Jack Friedman, parent, community member and former School Board 26 member, “when we have a chance to do something special.”
The next public meeting on the proposed plan will take place at the School Board 29 monthly meeting at 8 p.m. Monday, Jan. 31. at IS 59, 132-55 Ridgedale St.. in Springfield Gardens.