By Phil Corso
A heated and sometimes contentious Community Board 11 meeting Monday night ended with a unified opposition to a proposal to install an elementary school in the footprint of 83-year Bayside mainstay Keil Bros. Garden Center.
Christopher Persheff, of the city School Construction Authority, visited the meeting to solicit community input for the potential 416-seat primary school.
“There has been a need in this district for several years,” Persheff said. “It’s not an easy thing to find 3,000 square feet to build a school. It just doesn’t happen. It’s very rare.”
After a lengthy public hearing at MS 158 in Bayside, CB 11 voted 25-3 with nine abstentions against the proposed school being eyed for construction where Keil Bros. Garden Center currently resides at 210-11 48th Ave. The City Council will make the final call on the proposal.
Joan Casale, principal of PS 162 in Bayside, was one of two school officials to speak in favor of the proposal Monday, citing massive enrollment at her 201-02 53rd Ave. elementary school. She said the number of enrolled students has grown from 681 at the beginning of 2011 to more than 715 currently.
Most residents at the meeting were united in their opposition to bringing another school into the same neighborhood as MS 158 on nearby Oceania Street and PS 31 off Bell Boulevard on 46th Road.
“This area is saturated with schools,” said Bayside activist Mandingo Tshaka. “We can’t stand anymore. It’s just no good.”
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) added his voice to the opposition as well.
“Frankly, this proposal makes no sense. The school will literally be facing the backyards of homes,” Avella said. “This is a quiet, residential neighborhood that already has an elementary school a few blocks from this site. A school at this location will significantly alter the quality of life of residents, including creating considerable traffic and parking concerns.”
Ronald Keil, of Keil Bros., said a declining economy led the center to accepting the city’s offer for purchase, but business will remain as scheduled for the 2013 season.
“The changing nature of the retail business and increasing cost of doing business helped us consider the city’s offer,” Keil said. “Nothing is definite yet until the decision is made. We’re still exploring options to continue business in the future at a nearby location in Queens.”
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4573.