The Department of Education will begin construction of an elementary school next year at 384 Seneca Avenue to relieve overcrowding, despite strenuous opposition from Ridgewood residents about the location.
The site—a former knitting mill—is directly across the street from St. Aloysius, a kindergarten- through eighth-grade parochial school with approximately 300 students. Construction is slated to begin next August with an opening date of September 2007.
Community members say the area is already impossibly congested with traffic and building a second school so close to an existing one will only make matters worse.
“The community is not opposed to having a school,” said Michael Hetzer, vice president of Citizens For A Better Ridgewood, “Most of the objections are to the site being right across from St. Aloysius.”
Parents of parochial school students are especially concerned about the increase in traffic before and after school when they drop off and pick up their children. The area is already crowded with ambulettes from a dialysis center, a bus stop and a supermarket, they said.
Others are worried that public school teachers will increase demand on an ever-dwindling number of parking spots in the neighborhood, since the new school will not include a parking lot.
Although a traffic study was completed in June, residents argue that it is flawed since St. Alyosius was only open for half a day when the study was done. In addition, it did not take into account the busy intersection at Dekalb and Seneca Avenues.
“We feel there’s no authority to go forward with this project because it is based on a flawed or possible fraudulent traffic study,” Hetzer said.
The demolition of the knitting mill and construction of the new building will cost approximately $24 million, according to representatives from the New York City School Construction Authority. PS 245Q, the new kindergarten- through third-grade school will have an approximate enrollment of 440 students.
Order could barely be maintained at St. Aloysius Parish Hall on Monday night as representatives from the School Construction Authority explained why the project is going forward.
“I hear this at every public hearing. Why here? Why at this spot?” said Mary Leas, a project support manager. “We have to buy property when it is available. The community is a community where there are more and more children.” The two closest public schools, PS 71 and PS 81, are operating at more than 120 percent capacity.
The issue of overcrowding did nothing to assuage residents. Since Community Board 5 opposed the school’s construction and more than a hundred residents attended a previous public hearing to express their concerns, many were shocked to find out construction would proceed.
“We know there is a problem with overcrowding,” said the Reverend George Poltorak, pastor of St. Aloysius. “The only problem is, why has nobody ever considered the existence of St. Aloysius?”
A number of alternate sites were proposed. CB 5 member and civic leader Peggy O’Kane said she recommended a number of sites that would have been better suited for school construction. A 40,000-square-foot vacant factory on Starr Street was rejected, despite the fact that the chosen site is only 15,000 square feet. “The site confuses me because it is half the size of the sites we were told to look for,” O’Kane said.
The school will be four stories tall, with each floor a little bigger than 11,000 square feet. The City Council and Mayor Michael Bloomberg approved the plans, giving the SCA the right to proceed.
“I know that nothing will convince you that you want a school here, but District 24 is desperate for seats,” said Lorraine Grillo, senior director of real estate for the SCA. “We have a right to build a school there.”
The New York City Department of Education purchased the site at 384 Seneca Avenue in 2001. For the past several years there has not been enough funding in place to begin the project. The funding came through in July, the start of fiscal year 2005.
Although construction will begin next summer, it will continue into the school year, raising concerns about disruptions at St. Aloysius.
“So the way they’re talking is this school is going to be built and it’s going to be in September while our children are in school,” said one parent. “How are they going to learn with noise from a demolition?”
Besides the construction, traffic and noise, there is a feeling at St. Aloysius that a second school so close to their own is just not right for the community. “Being close to St. Aloysius is significant. We just don’t feel it’s going to work,” Hetzer said.
Though the project appears imminent, some Ridgewood residents vowed to continue their opposition. “I know this neighborhood better than any person who did that study. Why didn’t they consult me?” asked Pauline Leblond, a Ridgewood resident for more than 40 years. “I’m a fighter. We must continue our fight.”