Cuomo signs bill to allow pre-K center to be built on Flushing Meadows Park grounds

Rendering courtesy of M D Szerbaty Associates Architecture

Corona kids will soon have a pre-K center dedicated to science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) education after a bill was passed to allow public parkland to be used for this purpose.

Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill on Nov. 30 introduced by state Senator Jose Peralta and Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry in June in response to the Public Park Doctrine, which requires that the State Legislature grant permission to use parkland for non-park use.

The center would accommodate 306 students at 47-01 111th St. The site is currently a parking lot for the New York Hall of Science (NYSCI), which is located at Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

The Department of Education (DOE) will partner with the NYSCI and the Department of Cultural Affairs to create curriculum focusing on STEAM education. The plan was first announced in August 2016.

It is unthinkable that in 2017 New York City children are learning in classroom trailers, and this is why the construction of a state-of-the-art pre-K school next to the Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park will benefit the community,” Peralta said in a statement. “We are talking about the use of one acre of parkland, which is currently a parking lot. More than 300 new seats in a space that is used for cars will now be available for children from Corona, which is one of the most school overcrowded areas in the entire City of New York.”

Peralta and Aubry introduced their bill after Queens Borough President Melinda Katz expressed concern about the city’s procedure. In a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio, she 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.”

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.”

In a statement, Katz said that if the city did not get approval from the State Legislature proceeding with the plan “would have set a dangerous precedent.”

“The use of public parkland must go through the proper channels – even by the City of New York,” she said. “The action effectively creates hundreds of new pre-K seats with STEM curriculum, and it was critical to follow the proper procedures of the public trust doctrine in the interest of protecting public parkland from unfettered development. Thanks to the leadership of our state legislators, this is now a prime example of how the process can work.”

Members of Community Board 4 also expressed reservations about public parkland being used for this school. At a CB 4 meeting in Corona in May 2016, board member and teacher 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.

Christian Cassagnol, district manager of CB 4, declined to comment. QNS is awaiting response from other board members.

Freddi Goldstein, a spokesperson for the mayor, previously told QNS that the DOE plans to begin construction immediately if the bill is signed “and is working to get the doors open as quickly as possible.”

The pre-K center is slated for a 2020 opening. The city will also allocate $20 million for park-related improvements in the area.