By Tom Momberg
The city School Construction Authority will soon have construction of a new 416-seat elementary school underway in Bayside, about 2 1/2 years after it purchased the former Keil Brothers Nursery with City Council approval.
Hoping the SCA would consider altering the plan to limit its impact on the surrounding neighborhood, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) wrote a letter to the mayor, Department of Education Chancellor Carmen Fariña and SCA CEO Lorraine Grillo, listing a number of ways the community said the site was inappropriate for a school when it was proposed in 2013.
In response, Avella said the DOE told him the SCA would soon start building on the site without any modifications to the proposal, the details of which have not yet been released.
The SCA and DOE declined requests for comment and did not respond to questions about building specifications or a timeline for the construction of the school.
There are already 21 elementary schools in School District 26, including 12 within the boundaries of Community Board 11. But the DOE has pledged that enrollment in the new school would be restricted to area students zoned to attend and not those from outside the district.
When the project was proposed in 2013, critics did not deny the need for a new school considering overcrowding in the district, but they thoughtthe Keil Brothers site, 210-11 48th Ave., was inappropriate. They claimed the height needed for such a building would cast a perpetual shadow over many of the adjacent homes for most of the year and that parking and traffic congestion would be made worse, leading to dangerous street crossing conditions for students.
The DOE told elected officials it would consider all concerns presented during the initial proposal public comment period, and would do everything it could to limit the impact on neighbors.
“It is absolutely disgraceful for the agency to, on the one hand, claim ‘vigorous community involvement’ yet, on the other hand, continue ahead without addressing any of their concerns,” Avella said. “Not only is this inaccurate, it is so far from the truth that both DOE and SCA have shown themselves to be nothing but a bunch of liars. It is clear that the voices of Bayside have fallen on DOE’s deaf ears and the mayor needs to immediately intervene.”
Residents were vocal about their opposition to the school proposal in 2013, but the City Council approved the proposal any way, following the wish of then Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Bayside), who was being indicted on federal corruption charges at the time. Councilman-elect Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) was preparing to take his place. Halloran was convicted in 2014.
The only two Council members who voted against the proposal were former Councilmen Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) and Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria). Both supported strong community opposition and a 25-3 vote against the proposal from CB11.
Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomb