Parent Advisory Board presses SCA for space

By Patrick Donachie

Representatives from the city’s School Construction Authority presented the 2016 proposed amendments to its’ five-year capital plan to Queens parents, students and educators at a Parent Advisory Board meeting Monday, but were met with tough questions about the availability of classroom space and the continued use of trailers in the place of permanent classrooms.

The meeting at Queens Borough Hall detailed the amended 2015-2019 capital plan for the SCA, which has allocated $14.9 billion for an assorted list of new construction and repairs, up from the original $13.6 billion. The increase is based upon a readjusted seat need from the June 2015 release of the original capital plan.

The SCA now believes 83,000 new seats are needed for students in New York City an increase of more than 33,000 seats from the projection a year before. The new funding would create 44,348 seats, an increase of 11,719 from the original 2015 budget.

Michael Mirisola, the SCA’s director of external affairs, said New York City’s population boom led to the increase in seat need.

“The need is really because of the people coming to the city and the tightness of our real estate,” he said.

He also told the audience, which filled the room, that the additional funding would lead to the creation of 7,600 new pre-K seats and help fund the eventual removal of all transportable classroom units. TCU is the alternate name for the trailers parked on school grounds that are often used as classrooms when schools become too overcrowded or do not have available space.

During the time for questions after Mirisola’s presentation, several parents, teachers and principals from a number of schools spoke about the continued presence of TCUs and asked for clarification on when they might be removed. According to Mirisola and the SCA’s capital budget, the amendment has allocated funding for the removal of every TCU, though not every trailer has been scheduled yet for removal. Mirisola stressed that the needs of the city’s public schools were great.

“Everything we do is needs-based,” he said. “We can usually only address the most severe things.”

The SCA has already removed 70 TCUs throughout the city, according to the capital budget, and 100 of the remaining 285 TCUs have been identified for removal, but the removal of the additional units requires the Department of Education to find adequate space for the students currently learning in those classrooms.

One speaker described the situation at Public School 151 in Woodside, which has had TCUs on its property for about 118 children in the schoolyard for years. Mirisola acknowledged that the trailers had been sitting in schoolyards far beyond their original intended usage.

“Everyone’s had TCUs for 12, 13 or 15 years,” he said, but he also noted there was one significant difference from years past that could make the removal of all TCUs a possibility. “We have the funds now.”

The SCA’s amendments will be considered by the New York City Council in June.

Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdonachie@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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