Middle school at historic Sunnyside garage is approved by community board, but with conditions

Photo courtesy of “Sunnyside Gardens, A Home Community,” by the City Housing Corporation

An abandoned building in Sunnyside that the School Construction Authority (SCA) wants to turn into a school received approval from Community Board 2 on Thursday but not without stipulations.

The property at 38-04 48th St. had been a billiard hall as recently as 2013, but it was originally constructed in the 1920s as a parking garage by award-winning architect Clarence Stein, who also designed Sunnyside Gardens. Though Sunnyside parents said they are desperate to have a zoned school to send their middle schoolers to, others argued that the building should be preserved due to its historical significance.


Lisa Ann Deller, chair of the Board 2 Land Use Committee, said the members of that committee voted in favor of allowing SCA to purchase the property 5 to 1. But there are five stipulations that they required SCA to follow.

The community board must be included in an advisory capacity for the programming and design of the school and must also have a separate advisory committee of members who communicate regularly with the city agency.

Deller also said that the school should be a zoned school for District 30 with preference given to students who live closest to the school. The SCA should also incorporate the historic Stein building into the new school and the design should be “architecturally consistent” with the structures in the Sunnyside Gardens community.

When choosing an architect for the project, the community board asked that 50 percent of the bids be from preservation architects and that all of the bids should have options for preserving not just the facades but the building as a whole.

Only one member, Stephen Cooper, voted against the recommendation.

“What I am being asked to do from this community board is to vote on promises without information,” Cooper said. “As much as I don’t want to oppose [Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer] I personally have to oppose this project because we have not gotten the information that we have been begging for since they first came to us with this project.”

SCA representative Michael Marisola attended the meeting to give the board some basic information about the proposed school. The SCA does not officially own the property yet so they have not made an initial designs.

The approximately four-story school would serve about 600 middle school students in a 40,000-square-foot space. The agency will have to work with the New York State Historic Preservation office to discuss designs since the building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Marisola said that school is about three years away from being completed because it will take the agency about a year to create the design, and construction typically lasts 18 to 24 months. Many people spoke about the building’s historical significance, but those who live close to the site have concerns about the impacts of construction.

Mary Chang, a Sunnyside resident since 1972 who lives adjacent to the building on 39th Avenue, said she is concerned about a construction site so close to her house.

“For the last 26 years I’ve lived on 39th Avenue,” Chang said. “When I look out of my backyard I see a two-story brick, ivy covered building. I am utterly terrified by the possibility of an open construction site for 18 to 24 months. I am for you keeping the original structure to minimize the impact of having that so close to my house.”

Students also came to the meeting to show their support for the possibility of a new school.

Eve Smith, a sixth-grader at Hunters Point Middle School in Long Island City, said she loves her school but has to travel by school bus about an hour each way to get there from Sunnyside. Next year, she’ll have to take public transportation.

“We all know that it is very important to provide children with a safe and appropriate environment to learn and so that they are able to get a good education,” Smith said. “This issue should be important to everyone whether or not they have kids. We should take an interest in the development of future citizens meaning that all of us should be concerned about these kids because they are going to be citizens of our earth and leaders of our country.”