Fears of a homeless shelter fuel local leaders’ feud over conditions at Maspeth’s P.S. 9

P.S. 9
Photos provided by Juniper Park Civic Association and Robert Holden’s Office

After the New York Post ran a story portraying P.S. 9  as “dilapidated” and “decrepit,” and followed up with an op-ed from Councilman Robert Holden reiterating the criticisms, the Department of Education and members of a local civic association are pushing back that the attacks did not fairly consider the improvements to the facility.

The school is currently undergoing renovations after the DOE made a $14 million investment in the building. While Holden has proposed closing down P.S. 9 and relocating the school for disabled students to 78-16 Cooper Ave., the Juniper Park Civic Association (JPCA) President Tony Nunziato thinks that district should do both: open a new school at Cooper Ave. and keep P.S. 9 afloat. 

A key issue undergirding the accounts from both sides is the fear that a homeless shelter might rise up in the place of a school. For Holden, part of the rush to get a school on Cooper Ave. is motivated by the growing concern among many neighbors to the Cooper Ave. site that its owner may try to push a homeless shelter on the property. 

Likewise, residents living around the P.S. 9 site are concerned that if it were to close, it might become a shelter, an idea that Department of Homelessness Services Commissioner Steve Banks has voiced in the past.

Homeless shelters aside, JPCA member and Juniper Berry Editor Christina Wilkinson thinks that it doesn’t make sense to close a school that falls within school Community School District 24, which has the fourth-highest level of overcrowding in the city, according to a report the City Council released in 2018. 

“They’re begging for school space. In fact, the Council member put out a request for a location to build new schools last year. So why would we give one up under the power of the DOE? That doesn’t make any sense to me. We’re not manufacturing any more land,” said Wilkinson.

Holden’s spokesperson said that the councilman believes continuing to pour money into the facility at P.S. 9 is wasteful when the city has the opportunity to build a new school in District 75, the non-geographical district that encompasses all of the city’s special needs schools.

The two local leaders are in direct disagreement over the current state of the renovations, although neither is operating on up-to-the-minute information. Holden confirmed that the photos he took that ran in the Post showing cracked plaster and peeling paint are over a year old. His spokesperson claimed that the conditions still exist, but also said the councilman has not visited since December (although he did reportedly stop by six times over the past year).

Likewise Wilkinson sent over photos that showcase improvements like a new gym, renovated bathrooms and new computer technology like smartboards, but they were taken over six months ago and do not directly refute Holden’s claims about the infrastructure problems. 

A spokesperson for the Department of Education claims that the Deputy Director of Facilities for the district visits the school every two weeks, and the agency is continuing to make improvements to the building. 

These include a new changing table in a separate bathroom, finishing the exterior remodeling, an electrical upgrade and a resurfacing of staircases and floors.  

“We’ve invested $14 million in the historic P.S. 9 building so that it is a safe, clean and comfortable space for students to learn,” said the DOE spokesperson.