A planned pre-K center with a focus on science and math education has some people worried that the swath of public parkland at Flushing Meadows Corona Park will become increasingly off limits to local residents.
Last summer, the Department of Education (DOE) announced the construction of a 250 to 300-set pre K at 47-01 111th St., at the New York Hall of Science parking lot. DOE said they would work with the Hall of Science and Department of Cultural Affairs to create a Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) based curriculum for students. It is slated to be completed in 2019.
Though District 26, which includes Corona, is one of the most overcrowded school districts in the city some are criticizing the plan for using public land for the school.
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio on April 24 saying that while she is not against a preschool at this site, she “request[s] that proper procedure be followed to utilize public parkland in this manner.”
In her letter, Katz mentioned the Public Park Doctrine, which requires that the State Legislature grant permission to use parkland for non-park use. The Hall of Science was allowed to be built due to New York City Code 18-120, which stated that the nonprofit could enter into an agreement with the city for “the adequate keeping, maintenance, extension, preservation, management and operation of such hall of science and scientific exhibits for affording instruction in the same and for the exhibition of scientific matters and objects for the entertainment, recreation and instruction of people.”
She argued that the code does not apply to the school, even if the Hall of Science said they would hire a permanent coordinator to oversee the school’s curriculum. Katz added that she is “a big supporter of education” in Queens and knows that a preschool would be good for residents but urges the city to “proceed within the law to accomplish this goal.”
At a Community Board 4 meeting in Corona on May 9, board member Judy D’Andrea echoed the borough president’s concerns and requested that the board send a letter to the city stating that they support the conservation of parkland and would like to see the center built somewhere else.
“As an early childhood educator, as much as I want to see early childhood education programs being developed, I don’t want to see them developed on parkland,” she said. “I was very happy to hear that the borough president wrote a letter. Unfortunately, our legislators do not see that. They want to use our parkland for purposes that it was not meant to be.”
D’Andrea suggested the city use sites like the Parkway Hospital at 70-35 113th St. in Forest Hills or St. John’s Queens Hospital at 90-02 Queens Blvd. in Elmhurst, which have been vacant for years. The board agreed to send a letter to the mayor and DOE after the Parks Committee discusses the situation.
A spokesperson for the mayor said they would work with Katz and the community to discuss the center.
“We are reviewing the letter, and look forward to working with Borough President Katz, all elected officials, and community stakeholders to add more pre-K seats in Corona and East Elmhurst,” said Freddi Goldstein, a spokesperson for the mayor said.
In 2012, Queens residents rallied against a plan that would use some of the parkland to build a mall, parking and tennis and Major League Soccer (MLS) stadiums. MLS has since dropped plans to build a facility in Queens.