Public review begins for proposed high school in Bayside

By Tom Momberg

A visit by Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) to Community Board 11’s monthly meeting Monday sparked a heated discussion among board members about an ongoing proposal for a new high school in Bayside.

The May announcement that the city School Construction Authority was to purchase the one-acre site of the Bayside Jewish Center, 203-5 32nd Ave., provoked immediate criticism as inappropriate in a residential area near Bayside High School with already high traffic volume.

The potential scale of the building is one of the biggest concerns. There are fears that it would shadow neighboring buildings and lead to more congested traffic.

Some elected officials are trying to amend the city’s school site selection process to include public input before finalizing a purchase.

But in response to a public outcry, the SCA pushed back its 45-day public review period to begin this past Tuesday, giving CB11 the opportunity to review the proposal and the corresponding environmental impact study to include potential impact on traffic while the school year is in session.

Vallone said the SCA’s willingness to include the community’s input for the proposed school site is at least a sign of good faith, that residents and neighborhood leaders will be given the opportunity to choose a school program that works for them.

“If we all stand outside and say we don’t want it, guess what? They are going to go ahead with it anyway,” Vallone said. “The site selection process has been wrong from day one … but once they make that selection and the contract has been signed, either we are out of the process or we are in the process. Either they decide or we decide.”

The SCA finalized its purchase of the site, at which it is proposing to add at least 700 high school seats, in early September.

But like any real estate purchase, the deal requires a closing. That will not happen until the conclusion of the public review period, for which 45 days is a minimum.

A public meeting must be held within that window. That meeting has been scheduled to take up the duration of the next CB11 meeting Monday, Nov. 2 at 7:30 p.m. at MS 158, 46-35 Oceania St. Anyone may sign up to speak for up to two minutes. CB11 is encouraging people to email qn11@cb.nyc.gov or call 718-225-1054 to sign up ahead of time.

Vallone said he is also holding community meetings with representatives of the SCA and the city Department of Education, which anyone is welcome to attend. He said exact dates and times for those meetings, in the second and fourth weeks of October, were yet to be determined.

In its five-year capital plan, the DOE cited the need for 5,000 new seats in Queens. Construction for 3,000 of those seats has already been funded, including the 700 at the proposed 32nd Avenue site, according to the plan.

Bayside schools are overcrowded. Frustrated with contradicting school enrollment statistics from all sides of the issue, board member Janet McEneaney asked that the SCA be more transparent and open to the idea of using the site for an elementary school, seats for which are just as in demand as are high-school seats.

“I think it would be helpful for us to go into the actual numbers, and request them from the DOE. I’ve seen other numbers that are directly opposite,” McEneaney said.

Bayside High School’s 3,350-seat enrollment is at 154 percent of the building’s capacity, and World Journalism Preparatory School in neighboring School District 25 has 609 students in a building that is at 79 percent capacity, according to the DOE’s 2013 utilization report—the most recent data available. Other District 26 high schools on that report range from 87 percent to 175 percent capacity.

“It is true that the high schools are overcrowded, but not with kids from northeast Queens. Kids are bused in,” board member Melvin Meer said. “We don’t need a new high school. In my opinion, these high schools should be built where the kids are, if for no other reason, because we are spending tons of money on transportation, which is off budget.”

Once the sale is closed following the public review period, conclusion of the environmental impact study and vote by CB11, the City Council must vote on the project, after which the SCA may take up to a year to develop plans before construction can begin. Bayside might be looking at sometime in 2018 for a completion date.

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