BY JON CRONIN
The Bayside community demonstrated their opposition to a proposed multi-story high school at the former site of the Bayside Jewish Center at 203-05 32 Ave. on Thursday morning at a rally organized by State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside).
Speaking to the press with approximately 30 residents behind him, Avella was outraged at how the School Construction Authority had not contacted him or the community regarding plans to build a multi-story high school. He said when he contacted SCA President and CEO Lorraine Grillo and asked why no one was notified he claims Grillo allegedly responded by stating they, “didn’t want to give him time to organize,” against the purchase.
Jason Fink, Deputy Press Secretary for the Department of Education, responded to that claim in an email.
“As we continue our effort to reduce school overcrowding in Queens and throughout our city, we are fully engaging our partners to ensure ongoing dialogue on all aspects of this project as we move forward,” he said. “The public review has just begun and members of the community will have the opportunity to provide feedback.”
Fink also noted that the purchase agreement is still being finalized.
At the rally, Avella emphasized that he does not believe the residential neighborhood can handle the traffic of an 800 to 1,000 student high school would bring to the community. He also said that does not believe any thought or analysis went into planning a high school at the site.
The State Senator added that he wanted to send two messages, “One is that the SCA “better back off. We’re going to fight this tooth and nail. This site is inappropriate.” The second is that he has introduced legislation in Albany which would force the SCA to prove an analysis of the chosen location and provide a list of other locations they considered.
Janet McEneaney, a member of Community Board 11, speaking at the rally, called the site, “Inappropriate.” She added that in the area there are two nearby elementary schools, a Catholic Church, and Bayside High School.
“They’re crazy,” she said for believing a school that needs parking and busing would work in their community. “We’re not going to be steamrolled by the SCA.”
Community Board 11 will be holding their next monthly meeting on June 15 at 7:30 p.m. at M.S. 158 and this issue will be on the agenda.
Lifelong Bayside resident, John Lamangino, is concerned local crime may rise if a new school is built. He said over years he has noticed an increase in vandalism and car break-ins, seen students dealing drugs in front of his house.
Paul Graziano, an urban planner, said that the site was “too small” for a school, “at a little over an acre”, they would have to build an underground garage to accommodate parking. Graziano added that the site would accommodate 16 two family homes and suggested a senior community center.
When asked if the area was zoned for a school, Avella said, “If they had to go by zoning they couldn’t do it,” adding, he believes the SCA could get the proper waivers to construct a school.
Avella said he encourages residents to call his office to begin a mailing database and urged everyone to call Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside), who Avella claimed supports the building of a school at that location.
Vallone, who announced the plans for the school earlier this month, has not endorsed or supported the plan.
“The purchase of this site is just the first step in a very long process; a process which will involve the community, community board and our office at every step of the way,” he said in a statement. “Any project of this size will always have opposition but in the end, we must weigh the merits of the site against the overwhelming demand for additional seats. The significant overcrowding in our schools is an issue that has been put off for too long and will only continue to worsen if it is not addressed.
According to Vallone, the SCA will begin a site selection review process which includes an environmental impact study followed by a public comment period of 45 days.