Local residents voiced a litany of woes on Tuesday night over the city’s plan to construct a public school on the campus of Queens Hospital Center.
More than 100 residents of Jamaica, Jamaica Hill and Jamaica Estates gathered at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church to share their views on the proposal, which is still in the early stages.
Virtually every speaker expressed an understanding of the gravity of Queens’ problem with overcrowded schools. Yet not one among them felt that the proposal—at least in its current form—was suited to the highly congested neighborhood.
“This would be a big, radical change,” warned resident Tom O’Neill, “and not for the better.”
The Department of Education’s proposal calls for an 800-plus-seat intermediate and high school to be located at the corner of Goethals Avenue and Parsons Boulevard. The site is currently occupied by an EMS facility that is slated for demolition.
The Queens Gateway to Health Sciences School, now located several blocks to the south on 87th Road, would then be shifted into the new building. The old Gateway site would be freed up for a new school.
The location of the new school would create unique educational opportunities for students interested in the health sciences, according to Lorraine Grillo, of the School Construction Authority.
“This facility will put them close to the medical center, where they can have classes and apprenticeships with medical professionals,” she said. “For those on this career track, this is a fantastic opportunity.”
But residents fear the influx of additional students and teachers would simply overwhelm a neighborhood that is already undergoing a radical transition.
Crews are currently clearing a 77,800-square-foot parcel of the hospital’s 19.5-acre campus for a multi-story building that will contain up to 150 apartments for middle income residents. A parking garage for staff and visitors, as well as shops, are also planned.
Although the 200-bed hospital completed a $149-million renovation two years ago, the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation is already looking for additional space, and plans to erect a new pavilion for medical offices.
The Margaret Tietz Center for Nursing Care is also in the final stages of acquiring the vacant Triborough Hospital, located on Parsons Boulevard, for an assisted living facility.
“You can say that this school will only bring in 75 staff, and it’s nothing, it’s not that many people,” said Kevin Forrestal, of the Hillcrest Estates Civic Association. “If you look at the whole picture, it’s a disaster.”
Chief among the concerns was the overcrowding of the neighborhood, which has impacts on parking, transportation and the ability of police to effectively keep the peace.
Ricardo Mariano, who lives across the street from Queens Hospital, said he has twice received $60 summonses for litter on his property that was discarded by passersby. With an additional 800 students passing by his home each day, that situation will only worsen, he fears. “You clean it up, but the next day, the garbage is right back.”
Father Robert McConnin, of St. Nicholas of Tolentine parish, said that parking is at such a premium that he keeps a cell phone when making rounds in the neighborhood. “I have to tell people that I am late because I have been driving around for 20 minutes and I can’t find a parking spot.”
One of the most passionate opponents of the project, Bob Traebold, of Hillcrest Citizens for Neighborhood Preservation, said that the school would tax public transportation and police to unsustainable levels. He would like the 70,000-square-foot parcel used for a neighborhood park instead.
“We are not against education,” Traebold added. “We just feel that a proposed school for 800 students should be located in another area.”
One of the few voices of compromise was that of Councilman James Gennaro, who opposes the school in its current form, but hinted that a 500-seat facility might be palatable.
Using the example of PS 499 on the Queens College campus, Gennaro urged residents to think about ways to blunt the negative impacts of the new school rather than flatly opposing it under all circumstances. The city refused to incorporate mitigations to PS 499, Gennaro believes, because no compromises could be reached.
Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm had agreed to appear at Tuesday’s meeting but didn’t, prompting several speakers to say that her absence was indicative of the level of the Department of Education’s attitude about the school.
State Senator Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), who co-sponsored the meeting, promised an “angry phone call” to Grimm after the meeting.
However, Grillo, of the SCA, said she would share comments about the school with Grimm and other education officials.
“This is still very early in the process,” Grillo added. “We are listening and we are here tonight, and you are being heard.”