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Queens Chronicle

New schoolhouse rocks Jax Heights

Chronically overcrowded district picks up 476 seats at PS 398

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Posted: Thursday, September 12, 2019 10:30 am | Updated: 12:07 pm, Thu Sep 19, 2019.

When White Castle closed its regional corporate office in Jackson Heights five years ago, northern Queens lost some jobs to New Jersey, where the hamburger chain has its corporate office.

White Castle told the reporter for an online news site that most of its corporate employees were working from home these days and it no longer needed the building.

What the neighborhood got in return was a full city block of real estate right next to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, ripe for development.

The mother of City Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) was living at the time in a nursing home a block and half away from the White Castle building at 34th Avenue and 69th Street.

“I was in the area a lot back then and I saw the sale sign go up,” he said.

For some time, Dromm, a former elementary-school teacher, had been on the lookout for sites in District 30, the second-most overcrowded school district in the city in 2014.

“So I called Lorraine Grillo,” he said.

Grillo is the head of the School Construction Authority, the agency in charge of designing, renovating and building all city schools.

Some $62 million later, Dromm, Grillo and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza last week cut the ribbon to open PS 398, a new 476-seat primary school built on the White Castle site and the first built-from-the-ground-up school to open in Queens in two years.

New elementary schools in New York open a little at a time.

On PS 398’s first day, only four classrooms of kids — two kindergarten and two pre-K — were filled.

The school will add one new grade a year for the next five years until it is full.

The principal, Erica Urena — born in Jackson Heights and still living there — led the chancellor and a group of school officials on a tour of the new building through halls that were unnaturally quiet for a school day.

“The site is ideal,” Dromm said.

District 30 encompasses Astoria, East Elmhurst and Long Island City, as well as Jackson Heights, some of the fastest growing neighborhoods in the borough.

It will take pressure off classroom sizes at nearby PS 212, PS 152 just west of the BQE and PS 69.

“Yesterday, I was at a school facility built in 1898 and it’s still educating children,” Carranza told the group that had gathered in the school lobby to cut the ribbon.

“My focus is that, in a hundred years, this building will still be serving the children of Queens.”

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