By Naeisha Rose
Mayor Bill de Blasio was in Jackson Heights last week for a town hall to announce progress on two major park projects in the neighborhood and extended trash pickups to combat litter. Some of the other announcements that elicited cheers from the hundreds in attendance involved education, hospitals, sanitation, transportation and public safety.
Fewer than 50 members of the throng who filled IS 145 — located at 33-34 80th St. — at the March 28 town hall knew that all middle schools in the city had free after-school programs, so the mayor asked the crowd to spread the word.
The mayor also notified attendees that preschool attendance has increased in the last four years from 58 full-time preschoolers to 1,573 in Jackson Heights, that every 3-year-old will have free preschool by September 2021 in the city and that PS 398 will open in the fall of 2019 at 69-01 34th Ave.
“This is a community where there is a real need for new school space,” de Blasio said of the overcrowded school district.
Repairs are about to start at PS 69 —located at 77-02 37th Ave. — and the mayor expects the work to be done by the end of April.
The two-acre Travers Park at 76-09 34th Ave. will open September 2019 and Diversity Plaza will become a permanent pedestrian space after an $8 million investment. The plaza’s grand opening is in July, the mayor said. Jackson Heights Library will also receive an $11 million face-lift.
After being informed that Elmhurst Hospital has the eighth busiest emergency room in the nation, the city has invested $30 million to expand and renovate both the ER and the hospital’s trauma center.
Many complaints were made about overflowing litter in Jackson Heights and additional year-round service was added to the area starting March 28.
There are now extra trash pickups on Fridays along 37th and Roosevelt avenues, while Broadway has gone from five to seven days of service each week.
The Department of Transportation will add more lighting fixtures for the 7-train from Roosevelt Avenue stretching from 71st to 81st streets. To tackle the congestion at 73rd Street and 37th Avenue, a new traffic agent will be at the spot starting April 2.
Some of the questions during the Q&A portion of the town hall were about the LGBT community at schools, school buses and gentrification in Jackson Heights.
“We have the most school buses in any city, but our air quality is the third worst,” said Tevin Grant, the founder of the Electric School Bus Campaign. “School buses harm the kids more than anyone else.”
Although Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) has drafted a proposal for more electric school buses, the mayor said he was not aware of it.
“I have not read the legislation, but I do like the idea,” de Blasio said. “We are putting electric vehicle charging stations all over the city and it stands to reason that we want to go for the maximum amount of electric school buses.”
Stephen Petrus, a historian who works at LaGuardia and Wagner archives at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, asked the mayor about introducing curriculum to high schools.
“Noting that new Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza was starting his job this week, de Blasio said, “In San Francisco and Houston he focused on building curricula that reflected the whole community. This is something that we want to do a lot with to reflect the totality of our city.”
Ann Heppermann, a new Jackson Heights resident, feared she would no longer be able to afford to stay in the neighborhood due to gentrification.
“They say that Jackson Heights is an untapped asset,” Hepperman said. “They say that [Hayes Court] was supposed to be a rent-stabilized building, and I’m middle class. I’m not going to be able to enjoy the amazing things that are coming to Jackson Heights, because I’ll be gone.”
DSS Commissioner Steve Banks, who was in attendance, along with many of the city’s top officials, told Heppermann that no matter who buys her building that she still has her rent-stabilization rights. The mayor also offered her free legal service.
“As a general matter, if someone buys your building, it does not wipe out the rights that you have,” Banks said.
Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose