Bill to allow pre-K center near Hall of Science in Corona sent to Cuomo’s desk

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Erwin Bernal

Plans to construct a pre-K center at the New York Hall of Science (NYSCI) parking lot in Corona were thwarted last year due to a doctrine that barred public park land from being utilized for non-park use.

But a bill introduced by state Senator Jose Peralta and Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry would allow the center to be constructed if it is signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The center would accommodate 306 students and the Department of Education (DOE) would partner with the NYSCI and the Department of Cultural Affairs to create curriculum focusing on science, technology, engineering, art and math education.

The DOE announced the plan last August in conjunction with NYSCI. If signed by Cuomo, the bill would authorize the city to “discontinue the use of certain parkland” for the construction of the center.

After plans were announced, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz expressed concerns in a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio about the city’s procedure. The letter stated 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. A spokesperson for Katz did not respond to a request for comment as of press time.

At a Community Board 4 (CB 4) meeting in Corona in May 2016, 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.

CB 4 District Manager Christan Cassagnol could not be reached for comment as of press time.

Freddi Goldstein, a spokesperson for the mayor, said the city “sought legislation to alienate the parkland” for the construction of the pre-K center “at the urging” of Katz.

Additionally, the city will allocate $20 million for park-related improvements in the area.

The bill must be signed or vetoed by the governor by next Wednesday, Nov. 29. Goldstein said the DOE plans to begin construction immediately if the bill is signed “and is working to get the doors open as quickly as possible.”

School District 24, which encompasses Corona, Glendale, Ridgewood, Elmhurst, Long Island City, Maspeth and Middle Village, has notoriously been one of the most overcrowded school districts in the city. The DOE last year said it has begun to take some steps to alleviate this problem and will implement some short-term solutions.

For the 2016-17 through 2018-19 school years, DOE will add 17 pre-K sections with 312 seats in Corona and Elmhurst.

Plans include three sections at P.S. 7 in Elmhurst and seven Transportable Classroom Units (TCU) – three at the Pre-K Center at P.S. 28 in Corona, two at the Pre-K Center at P.S. 16 in Corona, and two at the Pre-K Center at P.S. 7 in Corona.

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.

More from Around New York