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Queens Chronicle

A race to fit a rising student population

Space, not money, is the issue in building new borough schools

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Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 11:16 am, Thu Jan 31, 2013.

It might be a sign that Queens remains a place where people want to raise their children, the ever-rising need for more space in city schools as families continue to grow and plant roots throughout the borough.

School overcrowding is a problem borough-wide, but especially in western Queens, where many working-class immigrant families have made their homes.

Last week, the School Construction Authority outlined the November 2012 amendment to its 2009-2014 capital projects plan at a parent advisory meeting at Borough Hall in Kew Gardens, providing an update on schools and improvements under construction and where the need for more seats remains.

The problem of overcrowding remains, the SCA confirmed, and schools are not being built fast enough to handle it.

District 24, which covers neighborhoods from Ridgewood to Corona, is in the most dire need of more seats. The five-year plan funded 5,191 additional seats in the district, with locations for all but 284 of them identified or already under construction. Eight new schools are being built in the district — four in Corona, two in Ridgewood and two in Maspeth. The largest one, PS 315, under construction at 96-18 43 Ave. in Corona, will hold 1,110 students and is the largest elementary school currently going up in the borough.

The capital program in District 24 also includes the addition being built at PS 87 in Middle Village.

District 30, which includes Astoria, Long Island City, Sunnyside, Jackson Heights and East Elmhurst, was given funding in the capital program for 3,717 seats. All but 504 of those seats have been attached to a project.

Where the need remains, funding for building schools and extensions is not the issue, but rather finding locations, according to SCA’s director of external affairs, Mary Laes.

“We’re still searching for sites,” Laes said. “They’re pretty hard to come by.”

District 27, which covers southern Queens, has one school under construction — PS 316 in Ozone Park, rising at the former site of St. Stanislaus on 101st Avenue. That school, which will have 444 seats, will be completed in 2014. The SCA said it was searching for a location for another school, one that would serve 416 students, in Howard Beach as part of its capital projects for the district.

In District 28, which includes Forest Hills, Kew Gardens, Jamaica and South Jamaica, one school is under construction and another is being enlarged to serve 1,183 students. PS/IS 314 at 88-08 164 St. in Jamaica will serve 833 students and open in September 2015. An addition to PS 50 will open in 2016 and serve 350 more students.

District 29, covering Southeast Queens, has one school under construction — PS 892 at 199-10 112 Ave. in St. Albans and two extensions at PS 35 and PS 176. The three projects will cover the entire 1,103 needed seats outlined in the capital program.

In northern and northeastern Queens, the need for new schools is less, but still apparent. District 25, centered in Flushing, had a need for 982 seats. The extension to PS 29, which added 232 seats, opened in September, while a 350-seat extension to PS 163 will open in 2016. The SCA is still searching for a site for a 400-seat school in the area.

There are no schools under construction in District 26, which includes Bayside, Fresh Meadows and Bellerose, but there is a need for 416 more seats.

Laes said the SCA typically finds schools to add extensions to if there is a need for 400 seats or fewer in a district.

“It just isn’t enough to warrant a new school,” she said.

But in District 26, the SCA is looking for a new site for a school to serve the 416-seat need. The problem is, it hasn’t been able to find one. With vacant space running scarce in the borough, schools are often built on the sites of vacant industrial buildings or former Catholic schools, as is the case with new schools being built in Ridgewood and Ozone Park. But in Northeast Queens, the space problem is at its worst.

Besides new schools, the SCA outlined a number of improvements it is making across the borough. Nearly 400 capital improvement projects are being done across Queens, the most in District 27. They include renovations to the playground at PS 811 in Little Neck, new windows and exterior masonry work at PS 41 in Bayside, the replacement of the boiler at Rego Park’s PS 157 and a flood elimination project at PS 177 in Fresh Meadows.

The SCA also outlined some of the “Resolution A” projects — work funded specifically by individual grants, the borough president or members of the City Council. Among the projects being undertaken with Reso A funds: new libraries at PS 174 in Rego Park and Forest Hills High School, funded via Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills); a new playground at Flushing’s PS 22, and new fencing around PS 175 in Rego Park. Included in Reso A grants are over $128 million for more than 1,000 technology upgrades products.

“Most schools want Reso A grants in technology,” she explained.

Not included in the amendment to the capital plan is work being done at schools damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Laes said 12 schools in the borough — 11 in South Queens and one in Long Island City — suffered damage, mainly from Sandy’s floodwaters. The cost of fixing those schools will be largely subsidized by FEMA money, likely part of the $50.7 billion approved by the House of Representatives last week and on track to become law.

“Hurricane Sandy costs were huge,” Laes said. “If it wasn’t for FEMA, we’d probably have to cancel or scale back many of these projects. It would’ve blown a hole in our budget.”

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