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Queens Chronicle

Former Queens Morgue Site Contaminated, Says State DEC

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Posted: Thursday, February 10, 2005 12:00 am

A controversial plan to build an 800-student high school on the former site of the Queens morgue in Hillcrest encountered a new hurdle last week after the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation publicly revealed for the first time that petroleum-related products have contaminated the site.

The DEC’s finding, released to State Senator Frank Padavan’s office on January 31st, was based on a preliminary environmental site assessment conducted by the city’s School Construction Authority. Padavan, of Bellerose, had requested an update on the school project from both the DEC and the city’s Department of Education in early December.

“It’s all part of an ongoing dialogue,” said Padavan, who remains a vocal critic of the scale of the proposed high school. “Still, the impact on the traffic and other factors of a school that size would be too great on the neighborhood,” he said.

The new Gateway to Health Services High School would be located at the intersection of Goethals Avenue and 160th Street, along the northern edge of the Queens Hospital Center campus.

The proposed high school is only one of four different construction projects planned for the roughly 20-acre campus, including a 180-resident senior center, a new morgue, as well as new facilities for the hospital. Plans to build a multi-use, high-rise building on the site were recently dropped.

Robert Trabold, head of the Hillcrest Citizens For Neighborhood Preservation, said his group had long suspected that the Queens morgue site was contaminated. “We have received testimony from people who worked at the morgue over the years stating that chemicals were dumped into drains that would not be permitted with newer regulations,” he said.

According to Trabold, over the past several months, the SCA had released nearly 925 pages of the environmental site assessment but the sections addressing soil contamination had not been among them.

He said that his group remains adamantly opposed to the proposed high school, claiming that Hillcrest already contends with an estimated 29,000 commuter students every day.

Along with St. John’s University, the neighborhood must also contend with four other high schools, numerous public and parochial schools, as well as staff and patients coming and going from Queens Hospital.

“All of these institutions make parking impossible and they also overload the bus lines serving the neighborhood,” Trabold added.

Alicia Maxie-Green, DOE spokesperson, said the SCA’s next step will be to determine the extent of the contamination and work with the DEC to develop a clean-up plan. She added that the city plans to publicly release the entire environmental site assessment in the next few weeks.

“After that,” she said, “the official site selection process will begin, which includes a public hearing by Community Board 8 and a period of public comment before a vote on approval by the City Council.

Welcome to the discussion.