When is the proposal for a new school and playground not a good idea? When they are proposed for the wrong location, without real community input, to be located on a narrow street, creating a traffic nightmare, and being rushed through for approval at the end of a political term.
The proposal by the School Construction Authority for a new school at 24th Avenue and Waters Edge Drive in Bay Terrace is significantly flawed. It comes at the end of this mayoral administration and months before a new Council member for the district can take office.
First and foremost, the SCA should put this proposal on hold until a new mayor and Council member can fully evaluate whether a new school is needed in this specific neighborhood. Only a few blocks away, construction at Public School 169 is already underway, adding over 600 seats. I also understand that presently PS 169 has seats available.
The proposed new school site itself is on a narrow road with no parking. The street filters onto Bell Boulevard exactly at the entrance to the Bay Terrace Shopping Center, already a congested intersection. Adding school buses and parents dropping off and picking their children will only further exacerbate a crowded traffic situation.
The land is a historic landfill, with possible underground contaminants, and may also include wetlands. These conditions should necessitate a full environmental impact statement before any possible negotiations with the property owner should begin. Which the SCA clearly will not do. How the SCA can even begin the process of purchasing this site without fully investigating these conditions is fiscally irresponsible.
The adjoining proposal for a new playground across the street seems to have been made solely to bolster the argument for the school, providing a few parking spots and a playground for the schoolchildren.
Unfortunately, the playground proposal also is short-sighted, for the same reasons as the school. This is the dead end of 24th Avenue, again creating a dangerous traffic situation for future park users. Given its proposed location, a deserted dead-end street with little to no visibility, the playground can only become a potential late-night hangout.
I applaud the inclusion of $20 million in the city budget for construction of this playground, but not its location!
A much better location is nearby Little Bay Park/Fort Totten, which is much more accessible to residents of Bay Terrace and surrounding communities. That site has a large parking lot and a wonderful comfort station and is accessible by city bus. Parks officials have long sought additional funding for Little Bay and Fort Totten. The $20 million would be a boon for both parks and create a more utilized and safer new playground.
Another reason against the proposed playground location is that although the lot on Waters Edge Drive and 24th Avenue is parkland, it currently is and has been for decades used by the Bay Terrace Country Club as a parking lot for the Pool Club. Taking away this lot would doom the Pool Club. The club has stated it has a 99-year lease on the site and obviously would contest the lease being vacated. The Pool Club has been a great resource for Bay Terrace and Queens for over six decades, and it would be a tremendous loss for everyone if should have to close over the loss of parking.
Also, in the middle of both sites is a Department of Environmental Protection sewage pumping station with facilities underneath and on the street and sidewalk. I understand that only last week was the DEP made aware of these proposals. Did no one bother to check what issues are present on the sites? Obviously not. Does it make sense to build a school and playground immediately adjacent to an odor-producing sewage pump station? Of course not!
For all of these reasons I oppose the new school and the location for the playground.
What should be done, and done immediately, is to put the school proposal on hold until a new mayor and new Council member have a chance to review its location and its need in this neighborhood. The SCA should work together with local elected officials, the community board and residents to find an appropriate site that would better serve the children. The SCA should turn away from dictating its proposals to working collaboratively with stakeholders.
The proposed playground should also be given a second look and relocated to Little Bay/Fort Totten. Let’s build the playground where everyone can enjoy it and at the same time allow the Pool Club to continue to serve the community.
To join with me in signing the petition, please go to: chng.it/Pjx6sjQzZg.
Tony Avella is a former New York City Councilman and state Senator and current Democratic nominee for City Council in the 19th District, in northeastern Queens.
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