Within two weeks, families and advocates of Jackson Heights have raised $250,000 to prevent an athletic field owned by a private school from being taken over by a developer.
The Garden School, which runs from nursery school through 12th grade, has been struggling financially and will sell its 29,000-square-foot athletic field located across from Travers Park on 78th Street.
Councilmember Daniel Dromm has secured $5 million in capital funds for the Parks Department to purchase the Garden School athletic field and turn it into an extension of Travers Park. Queens Borough President Helen Marshall is also willing to secure an additional $1 million.
“The city has exceeded every request the school had,” said Dromm. “For an immigrant based community to come up with $250,000 in two weeks, it’s amazing!”
While the Garden School would prefer to sell the lot to the city, their Board of Directors are considering selling to a developer because of their immediate cash needs of $500,000 in the next few months.
The money from the developer is believed to be available faster than the money from the city because the city must go through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, a process that allows for public review and environmental study of any purchase of land by the city and typically takes 6-18 months to complete.
Dudley Stewart, president of Jackson Heights Green Alliance, began to reach out to the community and ask residents to pledge money to this cause. This would basically be an interest-free loan to be repaid in the next 12-18 months, upon completion of the city’s land use review process.
"Selling the field to a developer will result in a four-to-six story building in the school yard and students will be forced to deal with construction and a shrunken school yard," Stewart said.
The athletic field is closed off and used as additional play space for kids during the summer. The city’s acquisition of the athletic field would allow the creation of a much larger contiguous public space.
“The city’s offer is a great deal because the field will remain open to the students and families in the neighborhood,” said Ed Westley, president of the Jackson Heights Beautification Group. “The response of the community has been overwhelming!”