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Queens Chronicle

CB 3 approves White Castle site for school

SCA taking public comments until June 6

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Posted: Friday, May 22, 2015 12:53 pm

School District 30 in Western Queens is a bit closer to having almost 500 more seats.

Members of Community Board 3 voted Thursday night to pass a motion to approve the School Construction Authority's proposal to build a 450-seat primary school on the site of the former White Castle regional office, at 69-01 34 Ave. in Jackson Heights.

City Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) said he had reached out about having the site assessed toward the beginning of the month.

Kenrick Ou, senior director of the SCA's real estate group, said Thursday at the May meeting of CB 3 that the agency has started the public review process for the proposed school.  Ou added that it seeks to acquire the property, demolish the existing building there and construct a new primary school.

"We must complete this public comment period and we will be reviewing all of the comments we receive before SCA makes a decision," he said, adding that after June 6, when the SCA closes public input, it will then decide to continue with the proposal as-is, modify it or withdraw it.

The public review process includes a request from CB 3 and the Community Education Council of District 30 to hold a public hearing; the SCA presented the same plan to CEC 30 earlier that evening.

"Given the extraordinary need for school seats in this part of Queens — the Department of Education's capital plan identifies the need for 1,300 additional seats, which we're funded for about 900 — I would be surprised if we were to drop the proposal entirely, but that's why we seek public feedback," Ou said.

The SCA will also work with the city Department of Transportation on an traffic impact analysis.

SCA representatives stressed that they believe it's a great site.

Danielle Schaaff,  community realtions manager for Queens for the SCA, will be the day-to-day point person for CB 3 throughout the process and said there will always be a need for seats.

If all goes according to plan and eventual construction is on schedule, the school would open in September 2019.

Concerns from board members mainly had to do with double-parking parents and noise, pollution and traffic from the nearby elevated Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

"I know that a lot of times when school is being dismissed we have a lot of double parking, so this causes some cluster at times," said CB 3 member Philip Papas. "Are there any plans to accommodate for safety given that there is a highway there?"

Schaaff stressed that the SCA hasn't begun the design stages nor a traffic study, but will embark on that stage of the process after receiving public comments. One option, she said, may be to create a slightly larger sidewalk to allow for more pedestrians and she added the traffic study would also look at nearby on-ramps to the BQE, which might influence positioning the school entrances and exits strategically.

Ou said officials anticipate using approximately more than 70,000 gross square feet and building about four to five stories, similar to the layout of other new schools.

"My concern is when it's next to the BQE, it's a high traffic area with a lot of traffic noise," board member Agha Muhammad Saleh said. "How would you address these noises ... How would you control that pollution?"

Ou ensured him that the SCA has placed many schools next to elevated rail lines and under the flight paths for the airports.

"The SCA has very robust design standards," he said. "We've had major projects to retrofit our existing buildings with noise-attenuating windows. With a new building it's actually easier to engineer, between the window and the wall construction, ways of addressing the ambient noise situation."

He also said that at PS 307 in Corona, which is on Roosevelt Avenue off 100th Street and adjoins the elevated No. 7 line, the SCA was able to place a windowless auditorium along the side of the train tracks so the classrooms could border the quieter streets on other sides.

"Through design and through engineering we can address those concerns," Ou said.

CB 3 member Pat Glunt noted how in a plan that extends the sidewalk, street parking could be taken away, despite more teachers commuting to the area and needing parking spaces. She also asked about outdoor space and access to sunlight and fresh air in a building outfitted with sealed or nonexistant windows.

"Outdoor space is very important for children, and also windows that can open are very important for teachers and classrooms," Glunt said. "If you're protecting them from the elements, how are you going to accommodate all of that?"

The SCA representatives said that given the size, every inch that's available is going to be used for either instructional or schoolyard space.

Lisa Mesulam, chairwoman of CB 3's Education Committee, said that there is a public parking lot that teachers at IS 230 use and perhaps there is one near the site where a similar deal could occur.

Later, she said the committee voted to approve the SCA's request and the board voted in favor also.

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