Community Board 12 members and education advocates blasted a city plan to create a new elementary school in District 29 in St. Albans because they say more space is needed for high school students and existing schools in other parts of the district.
The School Construction Authority is in contract with the Police Athletic League to buy its building at 199-02 112 Ave. and use it to house 379 students from pre-K through fifth grade starting in September 2015, Christopher Persheff, the SCA’s Queens site selection manager, said at the April 18 CB 12 meeting.
Persheff said the capital plan for 2010-14, calls for the SCA to site 738 seats in District 29 for primary and intermediate students. About a year before the school opens, the Department of Education’s Office of Portfolio Planning and the Community Education Council will meet with residents to discuss the needs of the area, Persheff said.
But residents did not want to wait that long. They were ready with their complaints and hammered Persheff for answers.
Donna Crayton, the PTA president at Pathways College Preparatory School, a high school in St. Albans said it desperately needs its own building because overcrowding is limiting the potential of present students and failing to attract new ones. Pathways resides within IS 192’s building.
The Pathways students are forced to share the cafeteria and must sometimes eat lunch at 9 or 10 a.m, according to Crayton. The two schools also share an auditorium and there is no library for the high school students, she said.
“It’s almost impossible for a high school to share space with a middle school,” Crayton said, asking that Persheff and the DOE reconsider their plan. “We are a small school, but we have big dreams.”
Persheff said he was there solely to discuss whether the site will work as a school, and could not answer any other questions — but that didn’t stop people from asking.
“If there are currently two underutilized elementary schools in the area, and we have a high school program that doesn’t have space to house students ... why are we currently planning to put another elementary school here, rather than finding space for this high school?” asked board member Florence Johnson.
Matt Mittenthal, a spokesman for the DOE, said Monday that the agency believes there is a greater need for elementary school seats, but is taking comments from the community under advisement.
“This is the first step in the public review process,” Mittenthal said. “The project has not been approved. It has not been funded. We are listening to feedback from the community and the community board.”
Board member James Heyliger asked whether the PAL site has the capacity to be used as a high school and Persheff said it does. It once housed St. Pascal Baylon High School.
Persheff said it’s rare to find a building that can be used pretty much as is and does not have to be completely gutted, and that’s why it is so attractive to the SCA.
But that wasn’t enough for the residents.
“The Department of Education has continuously come into our community and disrespected us,” said Linette Townsley, youth advisor with the Jamaica NAACP. “If you’re planning to put our children in a school, to say whether a site is good enough for our children, we need someone here to be able to answer any questions that we have.”
Alicia Hindman, president of the Community Education Council for District 29, said seats are needed in the northern part of the district, adding that PS 95 is “busting at the seams” and IS 238 is “very crowded.”
CB 12 Chairwoman Jacqueline Boyce tried to take the pressure off Persheff by stating that his visit was just the first step in the process and that the board would be having many more discussions with the DOE about the plan. But Johnson was not satisfied with that answer.
“This community has need for one thing and you’re out here to tell us that you are going to do something else, but you can’t answer the questions about why we aren’t getting our needs met,” she said. “No offense to you, but we want to know why they don’t send someone here that could answer those questions.”