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Queens Chronicle

City eyes Keil Bros for new Bayside school

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Posted: Thursday, May 9, 2013 10:30 am

The School Construction Authority came before Community Board 11 on Monday night with a proposed new 416-seat school, pointing to what it calls a strong need for more classrooms in one of the city’s high-performing education districts.

The agency ran headlong into the gaping maw of Northeast Queens’ ire, fueled by the potential school’s incredulous neighbors, who claimed the city did not look hard enough for a better site.

CB 11 voted 25-3 against the creation of a kindergarten-to-5th-grade school at what is currently the site of the Keil Brothers Garden Center and Nursery at 210-11 48 Ave. in Bayside.

The meeting at points devolved into shouting and accusations the SCA’s site selection manager, Christopher Persheff, intentionally came bearing little information beyond a Google Maps image. Members of the public said he needs to “look someplace else.”

“This is not an easy thing to find, 3,000 square feet to build a school,” Persheff said. “It just doesn’t happen. It’s very rare.”

Most present at the board meeting weren’t buying it.

“This particular proposal is the most illogical thing I’ve ever seen,” said Michael Feiner, president of the Bayside Hills Civic Association.

Community activist Mandingo Tshaka, who lives close enough to the proposed site to be affected by the school, said the influx of school buses and parents dropping off their kids during rush hour would tax strained city resources.

The site rests along two major bus routes, and is next to a large thoroughfare in an area made up mostly of narrow residential streets.

“This whole area is saturated with schools,” Tshaka said. “We can’t stand anymore.”

But all the bluster and board’s vote may be for naught. CB 11’s role is purely advisory. The proposal’s fate largely rests with the City Council, where the district lacks a viable legislative champion as Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) battles corruption charges and faces a diminished role.

Principals from various schools from within the 26th Education District spoke of increasing student populations that their institutions cannot handle. But the hearing devolved into smatterings of hearsay and rumors.

Chief among them was the assertion the building would be four to five stories tall, which Persheff said would be “anathema” to any plans. The land, he said, would allow for the creation of a cellar below ground, diminishing the need to build a tall structure.

The SCA was ill-prepared to address questions of environmental and infrastructure impact, as it had yet to conduct a study on the school’s effects. The point of the gathering, Persheff said, was to feel out the community and hear its concerns.

“In this case, we want to hear from the community in detail about the site,” he said, adding “We’re running out of sites and with this one site we have a chance to build a pretty decent school.”

The SCA is also running out of chances, according to Persheff. The agency’s capital plan and funding is amended every year, and the turnover at the mayoral and Council level means next year’s dollars aren’t promised today.

Persheff said the SCA began searching for sites on April 15, which some blasted as a surprisingly short period.

The agency’s land-search process, as described by the selection manager, consists of cold-calling potential landowners and assessing their willingness to sell.

The selection of Keil Brothers’ land surprised many, as the neighborhood institution was not known to be up for sale.

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