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Mounting opposition leads to withdrawal of high school proposal

By Tom Momberg

The School Construction Authority has officially withdrawn its plan to build a new high school in Bayside.

The city agency announced Tuesday it would rescind its contract to purchase the Bayside Jewish Center along with its plans to build, ending a controversy that has fanned growing frustration since it was first proposed in May.

“In addition to building great schools that foster a welcoming environment for our students and families, we are laser focused on identifying appropriate locations to increase capacity in a city where space is at a premium,” SCA President Lorraine Grillo said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we have been unable to reach a consensus with Bayside residents and local elected officials on our proposed development site for a new high school in their neighborhood. The proposal will not be moving forward; however, we remain committed to addressing overcrowding communities face.”

The SCA’s announcement came just days after state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) staged a rally outside the Jewish Center last Saturday, calling on the mayor to help the community prevent a 739-seat high school from being built on the site.

“I am elated that SCA has come to its senses and realized that this project did not make sense – I only wish they had made this decision sooner,” Avella said in a statement after the announcement to scrap the plan was announced.

City Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) sent a letter to Grillo last Friday, asking her to rescind the agency’s agreement to purchase the property.

The proposal to build a structure on the 1.2-acre Jewish center lot, 203-05 32nd Ave., struck nerves with many nearby residents. After numerous rallies and calls to local officials by members of the community, their message prevailed.

“This is the power of our community coming together — our elected representatives listening to and uniting with their constituents, and the SCA taking its first step in learning from this example,” Northwest Bayside Civic Association President Chadney Spencer said.

Community Board 11 voted 31-1 in opposition to the SCA’s proposal, putting the needs of Bayside over the priorities of the agency’s five-year capital plan for new construction. The SCA has funding for 4,045 out of the 8,500 school seats it has identified as needed in the entire borough.

The plan was set to go before the City Council for a review and vote in the coming month. Vallone, who previously supported the plan to help the SCA decide what kind of specialty school could be housed at the site, said he would oppose the plan following the CB 11 board’s vote.

Neighborhood residents and community board members claimed the size of the site would lead to the design of a structure that towered over the surrounding homes, while increased bus and car traffic on 32nd Avenue, along with little provision for parking, would worsen gridlock traffic.

“My fellow council members stood with me in their opposition, which left the SCA with no alternative course of action but to withdraw from their proposal,” Vallone said in a statement. “Our office stands ready to discuss future educational opportunities for our children and a site selection process that is open to the community from day one.”

State Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) and U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing), along with Avella, who plans to reintroduce legislation in January to reform the SCA’s site selection process, all urged Grillo to rescind the contract to purchase the site early on.

Each of them issued statements saying they would look forward to helping the Jewish center find an appropriate organization to take over the property, which has been on the real-estate market since January.

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

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