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Bayside Jewish Center signs deal to become high school

By Madina Toure

Community Board 11 expressed disappointment Tuesday over not being immediately informed of a contract that the Bayside Jewish Center signed with the School Construction Authority to build a high school on its property.

In May, the SCA announced that it was finalizing its purchase of the site, located at 203-05 32nd Ave.

The Bayside Jewish Center could not be reached for comment.

CB 11 Chairwoman Christine Haider said she learned Tuesday afternoon that the contract was signed and that she did not receive the Sept. 3 press release in which state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) discussed it.

“We have been monitoring this almost on a daily basis with the board office to find out what has been happening and I was very, very shocked that we were not informed that it had been signed only this afternoon,” Haider said.

The SCA has said it would conduct a traffic study and the required environmental impact study to address community concerns about the project creating traffic congestion since it is close to Bayside HS and its athletic fields.

Avella introduced a bill, which passed the Senate, that would require the SCA to include community boards, residents and elected officials in the school placement process.

In an interview Wednesday after the meeting, Avella said he is upset about the deal being signed despite strong community opposition and after he spoke with City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

He also said the president of the Bayside Jewish Center promised to arrange a meeting with the board of directors to discuss the project.

“Obviously they haven’t gotten the message,” he said, “so I’m going to continue to pursue this as an issue not only generally with the legislation but also locally with this specific site.”

City Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) said that his office learned late of the deal as well, but noted that the SCA and the DOE have involved the community, which will determine the structure and course offerings of the school.

“We have to work aggressively to make sure that the SCA and the DOE stick with their commitment to listen to the local community as to what type of school we would like for our children here,” Vallone said.

Jason Fink, the DOE’s deputy press secretary, said the site is under public review and that there is no cost estimate at this time.

“We are continuing to engage with community members as well as local stakeholders and elected officials as the process moves forward,” Fink said.

Vallone said a meeting with the DOE, SCA, community board and civic leaders to discuss the contract will take place in the next two weeks.

Friends of Bayside High School, a community and alumni association, circulated a petition opposing the project with more than 3,200 signatures.

The group’s vice president, David Solano, said there is no need for a high school in the area or in the borough and that the community should keep track of the project, citing traffic and safety concerns.

“I think that we as a community and members need to keep an eye on what their progress is going to be,” Solano said.

Laura James, CB 11’s first vice chairwoman and co-chairwoman of the Education Committee, said two alternate locations were suggested in the budget committee: the Time Church next to the Little Neck Car Wash and the Creedmoor site.

“We did that immediately following the meeting where this was discussed and we have not heard anything back,” James said. “They told us that they were looking into it.”

Michael Athy, principal of Bayside HS, voiced his opposition to the proposed high school.

“I apologize on behalf of the DOE,” Athy said. “Don’t hate us all.”

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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