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Queens Chronicle

School Expansion To Ease Crowding, But At A Price

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Posted: Thursday, March 15, 2007 12:00 am

An expansion plan unveiled to Glendale parents last week will bring overcrowding relief to one of the borough’s most jam-packed elementary schools. But there’s a catch: Students must give up half of their beloved playground.

The School Construction Authority announced plans last Thursday to add new grades and instructional space to P.S. 113, the Isaac Chauncey School, by erecting a 440-seat addition. The project will bring 17 more classrooms and add pre-K and middle-school grades to the now K-5 school — which is bursting at the seams with 550 students in a site meant for 350.

The space shortage is so bad, parents said, that parent coordinators, guidance counselors and the school nurse must work out of converted bathrooms, partitioned by a curtain, and from basement closets.

School officials said the expansion will help administrators meet the school’s overwhelming capacity needs, while bringing a bevy of upgrades — including an expanded library, a new cafeteria and kitchen, parent-teacher conference rooms and Chauncey’s first full-size gym. The structure will also feature two science rooms, art and music space, handicap-accessible elevators and a state-of-the-art security system.

According to Mary Leas, a spokeswoman for the construction authority, the $39 million project is part of the city’s effort to lower class size and increase middle-school capacity in Middle Village and Glendale. “Your district (District 24) is the most overcrowded in the city,” Leas told parents at a Glendale Civic Association meeting last Thursday, “so, we are really looking at the best ways to add significantly more space in these neighborhoods.”

In Glendale, however, that added space will come at the expense of the outdoor schoolyard. The state’s Historic Preservation Office has designated Chauncey’s century-old schoolhouse a historic site, thereby barring builders from exceeding the structure’s two-story height, Leas explained.

Since architects cannot build high, they have decided to build wide. The expansion will cover roughly 66,000 square feet alongside the existing 40,000-square-foot schoolhouse, running the entire length of the block and wiping out more than half of the playground. Education officials plan to retain just one of the basketball courts in the northeast corner of the schoolyard, while carving out a small, early-childhood play space between the two buildings.

But with no nearby parks, parents worried that shrinking the schoolyard would eliminate the only wide-open play area in the neighborhood. “I’m all for this expansion, but we are losing one of the only places where students can go to stay healthy,” said Glendale dad Timothy Kilpatrick. “When you’ve got kids spending all their time behind the TV or the computer, they’re not getting the exercise they need … this schoolyard has to stay here.”

Another resident worried that the addition of four grades, or hundreds of pupils, would congest nearby roadways with commuting parents and school buses, while making the current lack of parking an “insurmountable” obstacle.

But Glendale parents contended that more traffic and less play space were both worthy sacrifices for overcrowding relief. “Honestly, how can you think about traffic when we have an opportunity like this?” asked Lydia Morales, whose daughter attends Chauncey. “Okay, I get it, traffic will be bad, but it’s not like it wasn’t already. … People are always taking from this community, and this is our chance to finally get something back for our children.”

With architectural designs laid out, education officials hope to put the building contracts up for competitive bidding in early spring and begin building by May. If all goes according to plan, the expansion could open in fall 2009.

But Councilman Dennis Gallagher (R-Middle Village) urged education officials to return to the drawing board first. “I strongly support this expansion,” he said. “But I think the department needs to reconsider (the design).”

He added: “I realize you looked at a lot of different ways to maximize this space, and I know this is going to be a big challenge, but it is a challenge I’m hoping the Department of Education is ready and willing to rise up to.”

Welcome to the discussion.