Northeast Queens is tired of repeating itself.
The city’s School Construction Authority presented the area’s Community District Education Council 26 with what it thought was good news: It has found a site for a new school. Hooray? Not quite.
The district’s elected officials, civic leaders and community groups have collectively been begging the SCA and Department of Education for a fourth high school, as its three are currently well above capacity. So when SCA Project Support Manager Monica Gutierrez told CDEC the site was not a high school but a 416-seat elementary school at the far reaches of the district, the disappointment was palpable.
“The fact that you’re looking at an elementary school when we’re in dire need of a high school is bizarre,” said CDEC 26 member Jeannette Segal.
The district’s three high schools — Bayside, Benjamin Cardozo and Francis Lewis — have utilization rates of 151 percent, 138 percent and 170 percent respectively. It currently has 16,500 students of all grade levels enrolled in its 19 schools.
“We have kids coming from all over to go to [the schools],” Segal said.
Gutierrez acknowledged the need for the school but said a dearth of potential sites made finding an additional school difficult.
The council’s exasperation is shared by others in the community, who claim repeated requests to look a little harder have been met with shoulder shrugs.
“They’re not listening,” said Community Board 11 Chairman of Youth Services Ted Teng. “They’re saying, ‘We don’t care what you need.’”
CB 11 has included a new high school in its statement of needs for years, according to its education committee chairwoman Laura James. In fact, the paragraphs outlining the need for a new school are identical for the board 2013 and 2014 statements of needs.
“With students housed in buildings meant for half the number, the already overutilized schools have become dangerously overcrowded,” the statement reads. “Cardozo HS and Bayside HS have transportable classrooms, but permanent building space should be added to the school or a new school built or leased to relieve overcrowding. We have brought this concern to the attention of the Chancellor over the past few years.”
The overcrowding problem has led to the seemingly omnipotent classrooms in trailers and staggered lunch periods, common to most overcrowded districts.
It’s part of a broader flaw in the Bloomberg administration’s education policies, according to state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside).
“What happens is we have very overcrowded high schools; then the overcrowding creates a situation where some students don’t succeed and then that’s used as justification by the administration to close the school,” he said. “It’s a catch-22 pattern of self-destruction.”
The SCA is having trouble finding a suitable site for a new high school, Gutierrez told the council. Identifying a potential site launches a complex process which includes assessing the location, accessibility, condition, previous occupant, as well as other factors, in deciding whether to move towards a formal offer and negotiations.
Among the community’s repeatedly suggested sites is the former home of Leviton, at 59-25 Little Neck Parkway. The 1.3-acre site has remained largely unused since Leviton moved out. It is located opposite the Samuel Field Y, a popular stop for seniors and children.
“I can’t think of any other site in our area that would fit the bill,” James said.
The former manufacturing site was deemed too remote and inaccessible by SCA, Gutierrez said.
The council countered bus service, which had been originally nixed with the death of the Q79, has come back in the form of the Q36.
“Their biggest complaint and concern with that site was that there’s no transportation,” Teng said. “There is public transportation there. There have always been difficult places to get to. It just seems like they’re not putting in the effort.”
The education council also floated the idea of adding another wing to Cardozo, which Gutierrez said she’d look into.
While many members of the community welcomed another elementary school, it is not exactly a dire priority.
Gutierrez said the site for the elementary school is close to the border with CDEC 25, leaving some wondering which it belongs to.
“This is not what’s been asked for and it sounds as if it’s also kind of right on the border of District 25,” James said. “We have not talked about the need for an elementary school at all.”
The potential school site is still in the negotiation stages, preventing Gutierrez from divulging any specifics. It would be used up to fifth grade, though the exact makeup of the school has not been determined.