More than 200 parents and residents packed MoMA PS 1’s winter-weather friendly performance dome last Wednesday to learn more about the opening of two new schools next year in the Hunters Point neighborhood of Long Island City and to be given the chance to voice concerns about them.
The schools, PS 312 and IS/HS 404, are both on schedule to open in September 2013.
“Two new schools is great. It’s a victory for our community, it’s great news, but I for one believe we need even more schools; we don’t want to settle for two,” Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) said at the Department of Education town hall meeting.
“We want to keep pushing for another school here because of the population explosion that we see,” Van Bramer added.
During his opening remarks, the councilman cited a survey done on behalf of Community Board 2 on the day the meeting was held, noting the thousands of new homes being built in the Hunters Point survey area.
“We know the need is there, it’s growing; we need to prepare now,” Van Bramer said, recounting the concern of area parents who cannot get their children into pre-K, which is not guaranteed for students in New York City public schools.
Van Bramer was one of several town meeting cohosts, including Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Ridgewood), state Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria), CB 2 Chairman Joe Conley, as well as representatives from Community Education Council 30 and the Department of Education Office of Portfolio Planning.
Monica Gutierrez of the New York City School Construction Authority, a representative on the panel, addressed the large crowd by giving a quick overview on the new institutions.
“The first one is PS 312, [which] is going to have the capacity of 578 children,” Gutierrez said. Located in the Queens West area of Long Island City, the pre-kindergarten through eighth grade school will be fully accessible, according to Gutierrez, with air conditioning, elevators, a library, gym, auditorium and other amenities.
“IS/HS 404 will accommodate 1,071 students,” Gutierrez added, noting that the intermediate and high school, located along the waterfront in Hunters Point South, will also accommodate students from District 75 Citywide Programs, to cater to children with special needs, such as autism, learning delays and other disabilities.
“It’s going to have state-of-the-art science, it’s going to have air conditioning, elevators, an auditorium, gym, everything,” Gutierrez said, adding, “It’s going to be absolutely beautiful.”
“We are roughly halfway through the constructions for both these projects,” said Gordon Tung, borough chief of the SCA in Queens.
He added that the authority is “pretty confident” that the work will be completed by the September deadline.
The SCA also made known that the two new Hunters Point schools will be zoned for the district, a point that didn’t go unnoticed by Conley.
“The idea of zoning schools for the elementary school, the middle school, is a big win for the community,” Conley said.
A zoned school gives priority to students who live within the area where the school is located. Based on feedback from the community and CEC 30, the SCA is moving forward with zoning for both schools.
A concern voiced by a number of parents in attendance, which was highlighted earlier in the meeting by Van Bramer, is the issue with pre-K admissions, which are not zoned or guaranteed to city students. With the opening of PS312, many were wondering what the likelihood would be that a child there would be able to attend pre-K there.
This past year, there were only 36 pre-K slots available at PS 78.
However, the SCA could not give a definite answer.
“I spoke to the superintendent today … the exact configuration of 78 and 312 has not actually been fully decided,” said Jeff Guyton, co-president of CEC 30.
According to Guyton, the numbers will be decided by the principal and Philip Composto, superintendent of District 30.
“What we’ve been hearing from [the community] is that we would like 78 to be an ECC — an early childhood center, that goes pre-K, K and grades 1 and 2 only, so we can expand the number of seats,” Guyton added.
Jonna Stark, a mother and real estate agent with LIC’s NestSeekers, voiced her concern too with what would be available for her family next year.
“It’s very exciting that they have more seats that are scheduled to open next year. I’m skeptical that it’s going to be enough seats,” Stark said.
“Just doing real estate in the neighborhood, [I see] so many families move in here and I don’t think [the DOE’s] numbers probably match what is current, what is actually accurate here — now,” she added.
Stark’s own pre-K-aged daughter was placed on the waiting list for PS 78, and Stark was forced to find alternative schooling arrangements for her.
But people looking to move to the area are encouraged to keep an open mind, because, according to Stark, this is happening not only in Western Queens.
“The reality is, what I tell [clients], it’s like this everywhere in New York City. It’s probably not a borough problem, but a city problem.”