Heralded as a “time to celebrate” by Community Education Council members and local politicians, the School Construction Authority announced last week that five overcrowded schools in District 24 would be expanded.
“It’s a tremendous victory,” said City Councilman Dennis Gallagher. “By expanding the schools, we’ll be able to reduce the size of classes so students will get a better quality education.”
The councilman, State Senator Serphin Maltese and CEC members had lobbied the School Construction Authority over the past year for the expansions. The results of an SCA “feasibility study,” indicating that construction would be possible and laying out possible options, were announced at a District 24 CEC meeting last Tuesday. The plans were approved by Region 4 Superintendent Reyes Irizarry and District 24 Superintendent Catherine Powis.
The expansions will provide a total of approximately 1,500 new seats for PS 13, PS 49, PS 102, PS 128 and PS 113. At 141 percent capacity, PS 113 is the most overcrowded school in the district. There were 556 kindergarten through fifth-grade students enrolled as of last October, according to the Department of Education.
Both Gallagher and CEC 24 President Nick Comaianni were careful to point out that the purpose of the construction is to reduce class sizes, not to bring more students into the schools. “We believe that the schools are successful because they’re small and manageable,” Gallagher said. “We want to keep them that way.”
Preliminary plans for PS 113 in Glendale and PS 49 in Middle Village call for additions to the main buildings. The latest figures available show PS 49 at 106 percent capacity with 448 students.
After a new building is constructed at PS 128 in Middle Village, the older building will be demolished and the property converted into a playground. “At PS 128 there is currently no gym and no cafeteria,” Comaianni said. “In their case, they’re just glad to get a school. What they have now can’t even be considered a school.” PS 128 was at 111 percent capacity as of October 2004 with 369 students.
During construction at PS 102 in Elmhurst, approximately 400 students will be temporarily moved to another location, possibly St. Bartholomew’s Catholic School, since several trailers will need to be removed before construction can begin. The school is now at 105 percent capacity with 800 students.
A number of students at PS 13 in Elmhurst also attend classes in trailers. Those students will be temporarily moved as well, although the location has not yet been determined. The school is the largest in the district with 1,424 students. It is at 124 percent capacity.
It is likely that several of the schools will include sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders for the first time, a plan backed by the CEC. “I think it’s excellent,” Comaianni said. “The students will still have respect for the principal as they did when they were younger, since they will be in the same school. They will still know all the teachers and parents.”
The final determination about which schools will accommodate older students will be made in conjunction with each school’s principal and will depend on projected enrollments.
Architects have already been assigned to the projects, according to Lorraine Grillo, senior director of government and community affairs for the SCA. A ground breaking could take place by August 2006 and the buildings may be ready by the middle of the 2007-2008 school year, although plans are still in the preliminary stages.
The money for the projects is available through the education department’s five-year capital plan reserved for District 24, but it took pressure from the CEC, parents and politicians to ensure it would be used for the expansion of these schools right away.
“The community education council was able to gain attention from the region, district office and School Construction Authority to focus on our district’s situation,” said Dmytro Fedkowskyj, CEC 24 vice president and chairman of the school construction and zoning committee. “The capital funds are present to invest in our children’s future and improve the quality of education in our school communities.”