City commits to $16 million in new repairs for Maspeth special needs school, but lawmaker wants new building

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Photo courtesy of Google Maps

The Department of Education announced Friday that it has decided to invest $16 million in repairs on top of $14 million already it has committed to renovating P.S. 9, a Maspeth elementary school that serves hundreds of students with various developmental, behavioral and emotional issues.

Education Chancellor Richard Carranza publicized the news in a letter to Councilman Robert Holden after a barrage of media coverage and public criticism from the councilman portrayed P.S. 9 as “dilapidated” and “decrepit.”

Ever since he toured the building last year, Holden has advocated for closing the school down in favor of building a new, state-of-the-art facility for disabled students at 78-16 Cooper Ave.

Carranza’s letter breaks the proposed renovations down in a timeline of what construction measure the DOE has already finished, what the agency plans to do immediately and what its long-term plans are for the facility. 

Completed repairs to date include renovations and maintenance to three bathrooms, ceiling tile replacement, pipe insulation repairs and scraping and painting of walls.

Short-term actions include continued painting up to the school’s opening day, creating access to a portion of the school yard, a new changing table, a separate changing room and a deep cleaning of the entire building. By January 2020, the agency also plans to convert three classrooms into a music room, sensory room and computer room, and upgrade classroom furniture.

Its list of long-term projects include $5 million worth of cafeteria and basement upgrades by September 2021, $14 million worth of exterior construction and the replacement of the main staircase by the summer of 2020 and a $7-10 million project to make the building accessible.

Beyond their differences over P.S. 9, tensions have flared between Carranza and Holden in recent months. In June the councilman attacked Carranza’s efforts to emphasize racial inequities in addressing gaps in education quality, disciplinary measures and school admissions within the school system. 

Holden told QNS, however, that the issue of the substandard conditions at P.S. 9 feels personal to him. “The first time I went there, I thought, ‘I gotta do something.’ It’s the thing I think about at night, and first thing I think about when I wake up,” he said.

In response to Carranza’s letter on P.S. 9, Holden pointed out that the chancellor refused his invitation to tour the school grounds, in the lead-up to his decision.

“Is it because you knew you couldn’t defend the school in its horrific conditions and in an industrial area not fit for any children? Face it Chancellor, you don’t have the guts to go toe-to-toe with me on this school,” Holden tweeted.

Holden said that he was especially disappointed by the DOE’s decision in this case because he thought that he had the support of School Construction Authority President Lorraine Grillo in his proposal to build a brand-new special needs school in the area.

In response to the announcement, Holden penned a letter of his own to Grillo, to request that the SCA produce a cost analysis of fixing P.S. 9 versus what it would cost to build a brand-new facility.

“I just think it’s a huge money pit. To get a state-of-the-art facility — even with all the investment, it’s not going to be up to anywhere near the standards that those kids need,” Holden told QNS.