A meeting with Councilman Paul Vallone and education officials on Monday couldn’t quell the concerns of Bayside residents still adamantly opposed to a school proposed for the former Bayside Jewish Center.
Vallone was only a few minutes into his introductory remarks when the audience interruptions began. The councilman pointed out that, as the Bayside Jewish Center and the School Construction Authority (SCA) had already entered into a contract, he thought it unlikely that plans for the school would be squashed at this point.
“I’m more of a realist than someone who’s going to stand on the corner and say it’s not going to happen,” Vallone said over the grumbling of audience members.
The councilman added that the situation was delicate and would likely draw criticism from residents no matter which site was chosen, and that he believed the SCA site selection process in general should be changed to increase transparency. Vallone also noted that his constituents in Community Board 11 have often commented about a dire need for school seats in the area.
Residents continued to angrily interject many times throughout the meeting, but despite the unrest, SCA Chief of Staff Melanie La Rocca presented some of basic information on the proposed school.
The high school will have approximately 730 seats and the Bayside Jewish Center and the SCA have a signed contract of sale contingent on a site selection process currently underway, which includes a traffic study and environmental review.
The school does not yet have an official design, so no decisions have been made on the numbers of floors to be included in the building. La Rocca said that any structure will be designed to fit the aesthetics of the surrounding neighborhood of largely single-family homes.
“I am committing that should this site move forward and we receive all necessary approvals, our design team will come to this project knowing full well the neighborhood they’re coming to,” La Rocca said.
According to La Rocca, the meeting functioned as the beginning of a community engagement process determine what kind of program will be offered at the new school. Possibilities included using a portion of the school as an annex to Bayside High School or relocating another school into the building, such as the nearby World Journalism Preparatory School. A third option could see a specialized program installed in the location with an arts or other academic focus.
Bayside resident Chadney Spencer was one of most vocal opponents to the school. Spencer, a father to two young children, said moving existing schools into the new building would not make sense toward the district’s goal of increasing seats, and that even if it was a new school he felt frustrated that the process was rushed through prematurely.
“From every angle that anyone regards this deal, it does not makes sense,” Spencer said.
Various lawmakers at the state and federal level have also expressed their opposition to the school.
In a joint letter sent to SCA President and Chief Executive Officer Lorraine Grillo on Tuesday, Congresswoman Grace Meng and Assemblyman Edward Braunstein asked that the SCA rescind its contract with the Bayside Jewish Center due to the lack of support from the Bayside community.
“The process that the School Construction Authority (SCA) uses to purchase property for siting new schools is flawed, and does not offer the residents, the community board, or elected officials any opportunity for input until after the contract negotiations have begun,” read the statement.
State Senator Tony Avella previously opposed the plan, holding opposition rallies outside the center in recent months.