By Tom Momberg

Community Board 11 voted 31-1 against the School Construction Authority’s proposal to build a new high school on 32nd Avenue in Bayside Monday, going along with strong community opposition to the $114 million project.

The board’s Education Committee unanimously rejected the proposal the week before, citing concerns that 32nd Avenue is too narrow and has too much traffic to allow for the increase in students, buses and cars.

Other concerns about the proposal involve the site of the Bayside Jewish Center, which is under contract to to be sold following environmental impact studies and a City Council vote.

Nearby residents are worried there would be no parking available for faculty and staff for the proposed 739-seat high school at 203-05 32nd Ave. Baysiders are aware that the SCA and city Department of Education do not usually make such accommodations. They also fear the potential scale of a building necessary to house so many students on a roughly 1.2-acre parcel of land could call for a building three, four or more stories high.

Other residents are concerned that, according to city numbers, less than 40 percent of the northeast Queens school district’s current enrollment is from locally zoned students. They contend that the DOE’s Office of School Enrollment’s process for considering capacity must be reformed and think a new specialty school should be built at a more central location in the borough.

All those reservations and then some were addressed thoroughly by about 160 spectators at the meeting, including some 30 speakers—only a handful of whom spoke in favor of the proposal. Some board members commented that it was the greatest public turnout they had ever seen at one of their meetings.

The Council is expected to vote on the proposal following the end of a 45-day public review period that concludes Nov. 20.

Up until now Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) has tried to encourage the community to work with the SCA to choose programming or a specialty school they would like to see installed in that high school, saying the proposed project is pretty much inevitable. He himself has been met with much unrest from his constituents about the proposal.

“Unfortunately, the reality is that the city has entered into a private contract with the Bayside Jewish Center and, as confirmed by the SCA, City Hall has never voted against a property acquisition for a school,” Vallone said in a statement.

But as a result of CB 11’s disapproval of the project, Vallone said he would now stand in opposition to the proposal at that specific site, “despite the community board’s repeated requests for a specialized high school in the district for nearly a decade.”

CB 11 members have acknowledged the need for more school seats in the school district it represents—District 26, which has six existing high schools that average 140 percent enrollment over their capacities—but has stressed it is only the specific site that is inappropriate.

Board member Steve Behar, of Bayside, said the SCA has been imposing sites on the district rather than consulting the community, which has made suggestions.

“We need more schools. Our schools are packed to the rafters,” Behar said. “However, the problem here is process. We as an education committee for the five years I have been on the board, have come up with various options and places to put schools … we’ve made these suggestions, because we know the community.”

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) introduced legislation in Albany early this summer to have school authorities consult communities prior to school site selection. He said the bill would come up again during the next legislative session.

“This is not only a disgraceful proposal, it’s an entirely disgraceful process,” Avella said at the board meeting.

Vallone proposed similar legislation on the city level months later.

Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomberg@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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