Staff at P.S. 9 in Maspeth reacted defensively to Councilman Robert Holden’s remarks on Thursday night at the Juniper Park Civic Association meeting about the dilapidated state of their school and the need for a new facility.
Trisha Puleo, a teacher at the 57th Street facility for students with disabilities, defended their school built in 1906 for all boys and situated in an industrial block between Grand and Flushing Avenues.
“Diesel fuel, that’s all you smell. Go there, every one of you should go there,” Holden said to protests from residents of 57th Street. According to Holden, the school is not accessible to people with physical disabilities, and a contract to have a $5 million elevator installed has been canceled.
Holden has been fighting both for the construction of a new school for P.S. 9 students while also attempting to have a new public school established at a potential shelter site in Glendale.
Puleo, on the other hand, suggested that closing P.S. 9 at its current site would cause more harm than good for the students.
“The school is filled with love, the kids are happy, they don’t even see outside. The industrial area is about one block around … There are people that do live in that community,” Puleo said. “Not too many people know what it is to have an autistic child, but change is very, very hard for them. If you’re going to pick them up and rip them up from what they know you are going to have a problem on your hands.”
Holden stressed that there is tricky angle to saving the Glendale location, 78-16 Cooper Ave., from becoming a shelter: the city Department of Homeless Services could place around 200 homeless men there by the summer, he suggested. It would take about a year for the city to complete the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure to potentially convert P.S. 9 into a homeless shelter, as DHS Commissioner Steve Banks has considered in the past.
“The School Construction Authority said they’re walking away from [P.S. 9], it’s not going to be a school,” Holden said. “78-16 [Cooper Ave.], the clock is ticking. That means there’s a contract ready to sign, and if we don’t move on it, we’re in trouble. We’ll lose 78-16 and get a homeless shelter.”
The SCA did not immediately respond to a request for comment from QNS.
ULURP applications must be approved through community boards and later the City Council votes.
Holden is opposed to any large shelter in the communities in his district, favoring using a network of properties owned by the Catholic church and other faith-based organizations to assist the homeless. He would rather see the Cooper Avenue site turned into a school.
The children at P.S. 9 do not notice the 18-wheeler idling and passing by the school, Puleo said in defense of the location of the school. But Holden said the building is in terrible shape with bathrooms that only accommodate one student at a time and diaper changing stations situated above urinals.
Photos released by the councilman, which Holden and his staff displayed at a slideshow during the meeting, depict peeling paint P.S. 9 that the facade is currently undergoing work.
While the Cooper Avenue site has previously been test for contaminants on the property, a more recent Department of Environmental Protection study showed the site only had asbestos in the building which a work order was in place to remedy on the first floor.
Holden said in a previous interview with QNS that it is unclear if the SCA would use the building if they acquired the property at 78-16 Cooper Ave.
This story was updated on Oct. 19 at 5 p.m.