Describing Long Island City as “Dubai without the infrastructure,” a civic group in the neighborhood is asking that the School Construction Authority (SCA) purchase a building to create a zoned elementary school.
The five-story building at 27-35 Jackson Ave. currently houses the Pre-K Center and will house several kindergarten classes from P.S./I.S. 78 as a new elementary school, P.S. 375, is constructed in time for the 2021-2022 school year.
The Court Square Civic Association (CSCA) created an online petition outlining its request that the SCA use funds allocated in the city’s five-year budget to develop new schools in the area to purchase the property. Rebecca Barnes, the vice president and education committee chair of CSCA, said the Court Square neighborhood severely lacks schools though its population is exploding.
“There are no elementary or middle schools in Court Square and the only zoned elementary school (P.S./I.S. 78) is overcrowded,” she said. “Court Square is like Dubai without the infrastructure. Adding seats prevents the constant threat of truncation of the 78 middle school and busing of LIC students to Woodside.”
The Department of Education has suggested removing the middle school seats at P.S./I.S. 78 several times to make room for more elementary and kindergarten classes but parents pushed back against the proposal.
In the petition, the civic group outlined the renovations needed for the building including adding windows, additional floors and outdoor space for children. The space is also currently used as a Department of Education Adult Learning Center. A liquor store was slated to open on the first floor but residents and elected officials asked that the State Liquor Authority not grant the owners a liquor license since the building is used as a pre-K site.
Barnes said that City Planning and the SCA have not done an adequate job in siting and constructing new schools to keep up with population growth.
“There has been no planning seemingly for Court Square,” she said. “SCA has been saying for 10 years that they’re looking [for sites] but there has been no evidence of that.”
Representatives from the SCA and DOE did attend an Education Panel meeting hosted by CSCA on Feb. 15 and announced that they were actively looking for a new school site in the area since the money for construction has been allocated. But the civic group requested that the SCA come back to discuss a timeline for building elementary and middle schools in the area and what the siting and construction process typically looks like.
“In addition to just meeting desperate needs for schools it would be nice for parents to have choice,” Barnes said. “Currently, parents have one school that they’re fighting to get into. Every few years there’s drama. There aren’t enough seats. It would be nice if SCA, DOE, City Planning, could build schools for the community that is currently here, not for what they hope for.”
The Court Square area was re-zoned in 2001 to encourage commercial development. Instead, residential developments flooded the area. Of the 30 largest U.S. cities, Long Island City saw the most apartments constructed from 2010 through 2016. According to RentCafe, 12,533 new apartments were built in Long Island City during that time.
“Court Square needs a school desperately,” said Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer. “There are thousands of new residents calling Court Square home with no place to send their children for elementary school. We need schools and we need them now.”
The city has plans to build several new elementary and middle schools in Hunters Point but the civic group argues that those plans are not enough.
“The current proposals for small schools at 44th Drive and Vernon Boulevard, as well as in conjunction with the Anable Basin project, are not adequate solutions for our community,” the group wrote in the petition. “These proposals instead tie these desperately needed school seats to contentious re-zonings that will add almost 6,000 (5,995) residential units. Furthermore, both projects are years away from breaking ground.”
So far, 573 people have signed the petition, which was created on March 7. Once the petition gains 1,000 signatures, CSCA will reach out to local elected officials such as Van Bramer and Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan to discuss the viability of this plan.
“We need this for LIC as a whole,” Joanna Lodzinski wrote in the petition.”Court Square needs schools. HP needs schools. This is a must and it can’t stop here.”
A spokesperson for the SCA did not respond to a request for comment.