By Jyoti Thottam
Plans for a new school in Sunnyside that could relieve overcrowding at PS 199 and IS 125 drew fire last week from community board members and residents concerned about traffic and children “that don't belong here.”
The School Construction Authority wants to build a 1,000-seat combined elementary and middle school at the old Stevens factory site at 50th Street and Queens Boulevard. At a meeting of Community Board 2 last Thursday evening, school officials and parents defended the school as long-overdue relief for crowding at neighboring schools, but critics said the site is no place for children.
“You're threatening your kids' lives,” said David Simon, who owns a business in the area. “You are really creating an accident waiting to happen.”
Cars going along Queens Boulevard, the artery linking Sunnyside to Manhattan, and truck traffic heading to businesses in the area would make the location unsafe for children, Simon said.
Stephen Cooper, chairman of the land use committee of Board 2, which covers Sunnyside, Woodside and Hunters Point, criticized the SCA for failing to present even a preliminary traffic study at the public hearing.
“We're trying to understand how many of our children we're going to have to bury every year,” Cooper said.
But parents who spoke said the need for the school is urgent. The proposed school falls within the boundary's of District 24, the most overcrowded in the city. PS 199 is operating at 152 percent over its capacity, and IS 125 is operating at 122 percent of capacity. The Board of Education estimates that schools in District 24 will reach an average of 170 percent utilization by 2007 if no new schools are built.
Liz Declan, a parent whose children attend District 24 schools, said it was sad that some of the speakers “found children so offensive but not tractor trailers until midnight.”
She warned that short-term concerns about traffic congestion and the inconvenience of another school zone in the neighborhood could hurt the area in the long run.
Without good schools, “you are not going to get a young family to pay a lot of money to buy a home here,” Declan said.
Despite assurances by District 24 Superintendent Joseph Quinn that the school would serve students from the surrounding neighborhood, several people aired suspicions that a new school would draw children from other parts of the district, which also serves Ridgewood, Glendale, Maspeth, Middle Village, Elmhurst and Corona.
“We got no children that need schools here,” said Dorothy Kaminsky. “Just get the ones that don't belong here out of our schools.”
U.S. Census Bureau figures seem to indicate otherwise. In 1990, there were nearly 6,000 children under the age of 5 living in the two Sunnyside and Woodside zip codes served by Community Board 2.
“They are local children,” said Margaret Corrigan, a Woodside resident with children attending District 24 schools.
The Board of Education is also facing opposition from the owners of the property, who have entered into a lease with P.C. Richard, the electronics retailer, and plan to fight the SCA's efforts to purchase it through condemnation if necessary. The SCA would need approval from the City Council for such a move.
“The Stevens family does not intend to let this site go,” a lawyer for the family said at the meeting.
The concerns raised at the meeting echo those brought up in Maspeth, where the SCA is trying to build another school on a former supermarket site. The SCA has funds to build 11 new schools in District 24 over the next four years, but its efforts have been slowed by community opposition to several school sites.
Board of Ed official Gerry Prishivalco warned that if opponents of the Queens Boulevard site win out, the district may not get any new schools built within the current capital budget, which runs until 2003.