Middle Village parents gave a big thumbs up last week to the city’s plan to build a new four story schoolhouse at P.S. 128, to ease overcrowding and add middle school grades.
At a well attended public hearing on Feb. 7, Community Board 5 unanimously approved a proposal by the School Construction Authority to expand the traditionally high performing K 5 school to eighth grade with a 660 seat building.
The board’s approval came after a majority of students, parents and teachers at the meeting gave a vote of confidence to the city’s $40 million plan, which would double the size of the existing 328 seat school and bring a bevy of state of the art improvements. “You are going to have new labs, music rooms, art rooms, a gymnasium, an auditorium, more classrooms,” said Mary Leas, project support manager for the construction authority. “Everything a school should have and your child deserves.”
Under the plan, a new school would be built at the site of P.S. 128’s basketball court, located at 69 26 65th Drive, while keeping the existing school open for classes during the next two years of construction.
Once the building is completed in fall 2009, city officials plan to raze the former schoolhouse and build a sprawling new play area in its footprint. That outdoor area — featuring two playgrounds, a baseball diamond and a blacktop with basketball courts and handball walls — would take about another year to complete.
The new school would have a spacious auditorium with “step seating” that begins on the first floor and moves down to a basement level stage, city officials said. The building is also designed to bolster access for students with disabilities, with two wheelchair accessible elevators, plus a separate entrance for special education students and English language learners.
“We have produced a truly wonderful school for you, with a most interesting design,” said Robert Coles, president of Robert Traynham Coles, the architectural firm hired by the Department of Education to design the facility. Coles also helped design Brooklyn’s P.S. 233 for gifted students and other high performers.
But public sentiment toward the city’s plan was not uniformly positive at the meeting. Diane Capobianco, who lives across the street from P.S. 128, worried that a larger school would threaten the neighborhood’s quality of life by increasing litter and traffic congestion, while fostering delinquency among rambunctious middle schoolers. “We’re going to have teens being loud and throwing trash on our lawns,” she said. “I moved here because it is a clean, quiet community, therefore I cannot support this.”
Some board members were also disheartened when school officials stopped short of guaranteeing Middle Village students first priority to attend the school. While elected officials insisted the school would almost certainly be zoned for local students, Leas said the education department would only determine who gets to use the facility after the preliminary design plan gets approved by the board.
Councilman Dennis Gallagher (R Middle Village) urged parents to give the plan a nod, claiming he had received a “firm commitment” from education officials to zone the school for nearby students.
Other parents implored the board to make a small leap of faith by approving the school, despite the lack of a firm promise of neighborhood student zoning. “Don’t kid yourselves, folks,” said District 24’s Community Education Council President Nick Comaianni. “If we don’t take this opportunity now, the money isn’t going to be there forever. We have fought long and hard to get this school into place for our kids.
“It’s the right thing for them,” he added, “and it’s the right thing for our community.”
School Construction Authority officials hope to begin the project this summer. They will accept public comments until Monday, Feb. 19 before submitting their proposal to the mayor for final approval.