To the relief of some community members, PS 3 in Forest Hills was vacated on Monday and the 120 special-needs students studying there were transferred to a renovated office and warehouse facility in Long Island City.
Although the Department of Education had been planning the move for quite some time, it ultimately coincided with a rash of robberies in Forest Hills, allegedly committed by some of these students.
Following the robbery incidents, Forest Hills City Councilwoman Melinda Katz wrote letters to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott in protest of the situation. The transfers began soon afterward.
But according to Department of Education spokeswoman Alicia Maxey, moving the students to 24-30 Skillman Avenue had nothing to do with the robberies.
“It was our intention to relocate the students as soon as construction was complete (in Long Island City),” Maxey said. “The incidents had no effect on the timing of the relocation.”
The situation began in the fall of 2004, when students from schools throughout Queens began attending PS 3, at 108-55 69th Avenue. A few students from other boroughs attended PS 3 as well. The building was formerly District 28’s headquarters.
A representative from Katz’s office said that back in 2004, they were not given any advance notice about the plan to use the building for students from outside the district.
“We found out three days before they were going to put the students in there,” said James McClelland, community liaison to Katz. “There was absolutely no warning.”
He added that the entire situation should never have gotten to the point that it did. “The Department of Education now has egg on its face,” he said.
The use of the Forest Hills building to accommodate students from outside the district also upset a number of community members, who thought the site should be used by local students.
The situation has been a subject of discussion on a Forest Hills message board since May. “Our own schools are overcrowded and they are busing in children from all over the place to use what little space we have,” wrote one resident on foresthillsny.com.
The lack of seats in District 28 schools and the constant search for new sites to accommodate a growing student population is not unique to Forest Hills. Queens schools are the most overcrowded in the city. To alleviate the situation, the Department of Education plans to add nearly 25,000 more seats for students in the borough over the next five years.
In addition to the leased space on Skillman Avenue, in September, students returned to six new schools in existing buildings, extensions to two buildings and additional leased space for classrooms throughout the borough.