Residents living near the Bayside Jewish Center rallied with state Sen. Tony Avella on Thursday against a proposed high school planned for their neighborhood.
Around 75 people showed up at the intersection of 32nd Avenue and 204th Street and largely complained of overcrowded traffic and buses due to the existence of several other schools in the nearby vicinity, including a number of elementary schools and Bayside High School, which serves a student body of more than 3,000 only four blocks away.
While the protesters agreed that new schools should be built for local students, they did not think that their community could accommodate a school with a planned capacity of between 800 and 1,000 students.
Avella said the School Construction Authority (SCA) has systematically chosen school sites without the support of residents and elected officials, citing an unsuccessful 2013 outcry against an elementary school being built on 48th Avenue. He is introducing legislation which would amend education law to require detailed analyses to be made available upon the proposed construction of a new school in a city of over a million in population.
“Too many times, SCA has been allowed to barge into a neighborhood and construct a monstrous school wherever they choose,” said Avella. “We cannot allow this to keep happening.”
Henry Euler, first vice president of the Auburndale Improvement Association, said that he and many others were frustrated with the lack of participation afforded to the community in the decision-making process for a new development.
“Above all, what they should be doing is consulting us, and asking the residents, what do they want, what should we put here, what do you need,” Euler said.
Members of Community Board 11 spoke before the crowd to offer their objections at not being consulted on the location of a new school.
“Come to the community and ask,” said board member Paul DiBenedetto. “They don’t know, they just look on a map.”
Some attending the rally even placed blame on the owners of the Jewish center for selling the property to the SCA, asserting that the building’s owners did not take enough care to choose an appropriate buyer to fill their place.
“They shouldn’t turn their backs on their neighbors, and impose on them an outsize school that would completely demolish the quality of life,” said Lance Premezzi, a resident of 32nd Avenue since 1950.
Councilman Paul Vallone, however, indicated that while compromises with the community will have to be made in the process leading up to the school’s construction, he looks forward to seeing a new school in his district, whether it is installed at the former Jewish center or at an alternative site.
“Any project of this size will always have opposition but in the end, we must weigh the merits of the site against the overwhelming demand for additional seats,” Vallone, who was initially an outspoken supporter for the creation of the proposed high school at the Jewish center, said in a statement. “The significant overcrowding in our schools is an issue that has been put off for too long and will only continue to worsen if it is not addressed.”