CB11 education committee disapproves of proposed high school

By Tom Momberg

Members of Community Board 11 who attended Tuesday’s Education Committee meeting unanimously shot down a motion to recommend approving the city School Construction Authority’s proposal to build a new 739-seat high school in Bayside.

The recommendation will be taken into consideration when the full board votes on the proposal Monday, Nov. 2.

The SCA has been under contract to purchase the Bayside Jewish Center, 203-05 32nd Ave., following the required 45-day public review period that began Oct. 5. But the proposal to spend $114 million to build a high school on the 1.1-acre lot immediately drew fire from members of the community.

They claim the already heavily trafficked, yet narrow 32nd Avenue connects Bayside High School to its athletic fields and is in close proximity to PS 159, so adding more buses, pedestrians, cars and parked cars to the roadway can only make it more congested and dangerous—making it an inappropriate location for a new high school.

The discussion with representatives from the SCA and the city Department of Education seemed to only reinforce that notion for the 16 board members who were present.

Although for some residents it feels as if the SCA imposes its site selection process on communities rather than working with them, the agency’s chief of staff, Melanie La Rocca, said she changed the planning process for Bayside.

“We’re committed to having the conversation and engaging the community on what kind of school goes in here,” La Rocca said , even though this is usually only considered after a school is already built. “The commitment from the department was to try and align these conversations between a possible user and moving the site through public review.”

She tried to explain why the SCA thought the 32nd Avenue site was a better fit for a high school than several others the agencies deemed inappropriate.

The SCA said the proposed site already has the utility infrastructure in place, making it less expensive and less time-consuming to build there. It also said School District 26, which has three high-demand high schools, is overcrowded and is the only district in Queens where the city has not yet made progress in creating more seats.

In its capital plan, the SCA has funded 2,800 new school seats of the nearly 5,000 it has deemed needed in the borough.

But as board member Dave Solano pointed out, Bayside High School, which was at 158 percent of its enrollment capacity in 2013, serves many students from out of the district with its specialty programs, so the DOE accepts more students than necessary into high schools that are already overcrowded.

“There is no student in our community who is turned away from their high school. Students who chose to go to other schools is because of the city’s open enrollment.”

The DOE said 58 percent of District 26 residents choose to go to the schools they are zoned for. Others are always given the opportunity to attend local schools, but seek specialty programs in other parts of the city. Just the same, students from elsewhere seek programs in Bayside.

Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomberg@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.