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Queens Chronicle

Crowded classes, mold are plague at schools

Students, educators urge city to fix bevy of problems in western Queens

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Posted: Thursday, December 22, 2011 12:00 pm | Updated: 12:56 pm, Thu Dec 29, 2011.

Rattling off a multitude of problems at two schools in western Queens, educators, students and parents say the list of woes seems to never end — and they’re begging the city to do something about issues including mold, leaks, such overcrowded conditions that some classes are held in closets, and staff members falling through floors that need fixing.

“We have a modular unit we received as a hand-me-down in 1996 and were told it was a temporary fix for our overcrowding,” said Amy Goldman, the assistant principal at PS 2 in Jackson Heights. “We have tiles falling down on children. It leaks. It’s unsafe.”

Goldman was one of close to 100 people who crowded into PS 212 in Jackson Heights for the public hearing on the School Construction Authority’s proposed five-year capital plan at the Community Education Council 30 meeting last Thursday.

PS 11 Principal Anna Efkarpides said her school too has an old modular unit, installed about a decade ago, that is falling apart.

“We’ve had mold, leaks, tiles falling on children,” Efkarpides said. “We’ve had staff members falling through the floor.”

The floor in the single-story modular unit partially caved in, and staff members were not seriously hurt when they fell.

Elected officials said PS 11 had been slated for an expansion, but the city removed the project from its capital plan — a move that has enraged area parents, as well as Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside). A DOE spokesman, however, said this is incorrect and that PS 11 had never been part of the capital plan.

“They are way over where they need to be,” Van Bramer said. “PS 11 has got to be put back in the plan. It’s just not right for the kids in Woodside.”

Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Sunnyside), chairwoman of the education committee, submitted a petition with close to 700 signatures to urge schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott to reinstate the expansion in the plan.

Because the school is overcrowded —a DOE official said it has an enrollment of 765 for this year and has a target capacity of 673 —Katie Kurjakovic said she has taught in what was originally designated to be a ladder closet, as well as in hallways and the cafeteria. She noted that she had her 7-year-old students stretch during class the other day, and they couldn’t spread their arms out to the side because there were so many of them in one room.

“If we want our children to soar, they have to have at least the room to spread their arms out to the side,” Kurjakovic said.

Monica Gutierrez, a project support manager at the SCA, said city officials are looking into the issues and will “do everything we possibly can.”

Gutierrez presented the SCA’s preliminary proposal for its five-year capital plan, which she emphasized “is not set in stone.” The SCA annually amends its five-year document, which is now the 2010-2014 plan, in order to respond to budget concerns and specific issues within districts.

In the $11.2 billion five-year capital plan, the SCA has identified a need for 2,963 more seats in District 30. The city has so far either already provided, or expects to open, 2,049 seats.

The city plans to open 423 seats at IS 230 in Jackson Heights in September 2014, 578 seats at PS/IS 312 in Long Island City in September 2013 and 508 seats at an addition to PS 70 in Woodside in 2014.

Gutierrez said city officials are looking for space to add 325 classroom seats in Woodside or Sunnyside and 590 in East Elmhurst or Jackson Heights.

Jenna Baiamonte, the student council president and a fifth-grade student at PS 2, urged city officials to add space to her school.

“First of all, the modular is just gross,” Baiamonte said at the CEC 30 meeting. “The ceilings are leaky and moldy.”

State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) called the lack of space at PS 2 a “serious issue affecting countless students and families in western Queens.” He noted that because there is no auditorium, the school’s gym serves as both space for physical education and an auditorium.

“PS 2 is functioning well over the capacity it was originally designed to accommodate with overcrowded lunchrooms that serve as unsafe, high traffic areas and a gymnasium that serves as a dual purpose since, astoundingly, PS 2 has no auditorium —in essence ensuring that neither the gymnasium nor auditorium is ever fully functional,” Gianaris wrote in a Dec. 15 letter to District 30 Superintendent Phillip Composto that was read out loud during the council meeting.

CEC 30 President Isaac Carmignani also slammed the city, calling the problems at PS 2 and PS 11 “atrocious.”

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