By Phil Corso
Community Board 11 accused the city Education Department of trying to sneak through a proposal to build a primary school in Bayside despite widespread opposition.
Board Chairman Jerry Iannece used strong language in a letter to city Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott Tuesday, demanding a place at the negotiating table as the city considers building a 416-seat elementary school at the Keil Bros. Garden Center site on 48th Avenue in Bayside.
The City Council was supposed to vote on the measure earlier this month, but held off on a scheduled hearing so the Education Department and city School Construction Authority could meet with elected officials, but no one else from the community.
“As chair of the board, I am once again amazed and offended by the actions of the DOE and SCA and your blatant disregard for community notification and for fair and open discourse,” Iannece wrote in the letter. “The community board was not given any advance notice of the subcommittee hearing, which is common procedure all applicants provide when they were previously before the board.”
Iannece said he and the board were originally told that a Council vote would not take place until August at the earliest. But July 17, CB 11 staff discovered the Council Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses was scheduled to host a hearing the following Monday on the proposal.
“We cannot excuse this misrepresentation made by the SCA and we can only believe it was meant to intentionally exclude the community board and circumvent the community,” Iannece said.
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) immediately teamed up with state Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Fresh Meadows) to schedule a news conference the Friday before the hearing to gather momentum against the primary school plan. That same day the lawmakers learned the hearing was postponed so the DOE and SCA could sit down with them — and only them — before moving to a vote.
“They have to back off before they can negotiate,” Avella said. “We have to have a two-way conversation.”
Avella said he reached out to the DOE to solicit a more community-centric discussion, but the department was not inclined to listen because of a raucous May CB 11 meeting, at which the board voted 25-3 with nine abstentions against the proposal. Most were opposed, and some suggested the city should instead return PS 130 to northeast Queens’ District 26, where it once belonged, to alleviate overcrowding.
Representatives of the SCA visited the board meeting to solicit input on the proposal and said it was only the beginning of a long process in which the community would be included.
The discussion became rowdy at times, so much so that Walcott accused Iannece of allowing the meeting to get out of hand with at least one member making threats of violence. Iannece defended the board in a rebuttal, adding that SCA representatives used threats of their own, suggesting the school was an ideal choice if compared to what else might move into the location, such as a drug rehabilitation clinic.
But moving forward, the board chairman said he would continue fighting for a voice in the discussion despite the DOE’s alleged sneakiness.
“We adamantly protest this exclusion and hereby demand that this anti-community, undemocratic and ill-advised decision be rescinded immediately,” Iannece said.
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4573.