An unpopular proposal to use the site of a former Bayside temple for a public school will go before Community Board 11 on Monday.
The plan calls for tearing down the Jewish Center of Bayside Hills at 211-06 48th Avenue and building an early childhood center geared for kindergarten through the third grade. It would provide 440 seats.
But local residents say the property is too small and the streets there already too crowded for such an addition to the community. “We’re not against education,” said Bayside Hills Civic Association President Michael Feiner. “We just don’t think this is the right place for a school.”
He said membership at the Jewish center had been dwindling over the years and members decided to merge with another congregation. The facility is still being cleaned out, but worship services have not been held there in recent months.
“I’m against the plan for the school. The space is too cramped and it’s our job to look after the community,” Feiner added.
At a heated discussion last week at CB 11’s Education Committee meeting, Lorraine Grillo, senior director of real estate services for the School Construction Authority, defended the city’s choice. She attended to hear opinions, but added that additional seats are needed.
The committee unanimously rejected the proposal. Its recommendation will now go to the full council, which meets on Monday at 7:30 p.m. at MS 158, 46-35 Oceania Street in Bayside.
It has been estimated that District 26, which includes Bayside, is projected to need up to 2,000 seats in the next 10 years. But CB 11 Chairman Jerry Iannece says that argument isn’t good enough.
“This is a terrible location,” he said. “The property is the size of four houses or a quarter the size of a normal school. They want to build a four-story facility and there is no room for a planned playground.”
He noted that 48th Avenue is narrow and has little parking. “They want to put in 50 staff members. Where are they going to park? It takes away from parking for residents.”
Many residents believe a better idea would be to build on to nearby PS 31, which has a large schoolyard and a playground. Christine Jones, who lives directly behind the defunct Jewish center, said the street is very busy and already congested. “I want the Department of Education to add on to PS 31 on 46th Avenue. They have plenty of room to expand,” she said.
Jones is also preparing a petition opposing the project but fears that it is already a done deal by the city. “I got the impression that Grillo was just going through the motions at the meetings,” she said. “I’m for schools; my daughter goes to PS 31, but I am against this new school.”
The city has already promised the Jones family special windows to block out noise from the planned school playground. “This will bring property values down,” she said.
Jones would also find it more tolerable if the Department of Education reduced the size of the proposed school by half the students and expanded PS 31, which she says is already getting overcrowded with an enrollment of 600 students.
Alex Hagin, a resident of 212th Street for 30 years, opposes the new school because of safety issues. “The inevitable double-parked school buses on and near the very busy 48th Avenue will present a very real safety issue. This condition will be dangerous for the schoolchildren and the residents of our neighborhood.”
Iannece noted that there are six schools scattered throughout the area and that this plan offers no relief for homeowners. “The city also did a traffic study on Election Day, which is not representative of the true picture,” he said, noting that the results showed no traffic problem there.
He also favors the city adding on to PS 31. “They would already have existing services at the school,” he said. “The proposed site is not big enough. We are being short-changed.”
Even if CB 11 rejects the proposal, the vote is only advisory and Grillo admitted that the sale of the property was expected although it must get final approval from the City Council.
Iannece was not optimistic that the plan would be stopped. “It seems to be political,” he said. “The city is not considering anything else. It will be up to the City Council to make the final decision.”