The Rufus King Public School in Fresh Meadows houses a special-needs program on its top floor despite not being an ADA-compliant building.
Luckily, the planned 458-seat addition for the elementary school will solve the problem.
“To me it’s a disgrace that our public schools are not accessible to everybody,” City Councilmember Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens) said at a July 7 forum regarding the expansion. “I’ve heard the testimony from mothers who’ve had to carry kids up the steps and that’s just outrageous.”
The School Construction Authority two weeks ago filed permits for the 195-02 69 Ave. four-story addition, which is anticipated to open in 2024 and includes an elevator.
The PS 26 addition is a hot topic for the Fresh Meadows neighborhood, but all the forum attendees showed support for the expansion, as long as the adjoining outdoor playground space would be maintained for both student and community access.
According to Ben Goodman of the SCA’s external affairs department, the new building will be constructed on part of Farm Playground. However, the park will get upgrades as part of the project, as well.
“We are reimagining it and making it a lot more as folks would imagine a playground to be for the community beyond other than the blacktop and the two basketball hoops that are there now, and the baseball fence and the dugout,” Goodman said.
Some community members raised concerns that the park will be inaccessible during construction, especially because Zumba classes and pickup games are common at the 196th Place playground. Grodenchik pointed out that Fresh Meadows has plentiful green space — Cunningham Park is a third of a mile west and Oak Grove is under a mile north — that residents can utilize in the meantime.
“It’s a sacrifice for everyone to lose any outdoor green space. It’s wonderful to have these, but I think that at the heart of the conversation, which should remain a focal point, is that the school is extremely overcrowded and the impact that that makes on the students’ ability to learn and the teachers’ ability to teach,” agreed Arlene Torres, a neighborhood resident. “We need to weigh what the pros and cons are and understand the sacrifice that everyone in the community has to make in order for this to work for the children.”
The design plans for the playground, as well as the addition, have not been created yet, but the SCA expects to return to the community with renderings and floor plans in the fall.
The basic concept for the building is to have the entrance face 69th Avenue, Grodenchik said, rather than 73rd Avenue where traffic would “be backed up to the moon” during drop-off and pickup times. All entry and exit points will face 69th Avenue to avoid congestion.
In addition to designs, the SCA will draw up noise mitigation plans for construction to not distract students or trigger those in the special needs program, a concern that was raised by Torres.
When plans are completed, construction will take place from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.