BY JON CRONIN
Queens City Council members representing the severely overcrowded School District 24 are engaging their constituents to come up with locations for new schools.
“We’re calling on anyone with recommendations or knowledge of properties suitable for a school to report them to our offices. To alleviate our overcrowded schools, we need to be creative in finding locations,” Councilman Robert Holden (D-Middle Village) said in a joint release with Councilman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights).
School District 24 encompasses Elmhurst, Maspeth, Middle Village, North Corona and Ridgewood and, according to the councilmen, has 4,702 unfunded seats. Holden said that number is well over the city average.
He said that the press release stems from a meeting the Queens Council delegation had with the city’s School Construction Authority (SCA), which is in charge of handling the building of new schools.
Holden noted that Lorraine Grillo, the president of the SCA, told Council members that the agency needs suggestions for new sites.
“I thought that they had a team that does that,” Holden said, adding that he learned the SCA consults real estate agents on the matter.
He is also worried that the number of unfunded seats will go up with the addition of families who will move into apartment buildings on a recently upzoned portion of Queens Boulevard in Corona.
“It’s a crisis situation,” he added. “If they built five 1,000-seat schools we would be at capacity.”
Moya’s council district includes the upzoned portion of Corona section, which needs approximately 2,000 seats.
“The numbers are clear and the situation is dire: Our schools are wildly overcrowded,” Moya said. “Every day the city fails to mitigate this problem is another day we fail our children.”
But in School District 24, there aren’t many properties with the space and transportation needs for a 1,000-seat school, Holden said. In his district, residents have recommended locations on Cooper Avenue as well as using the sites currently occupied by St. Pancras in Glendale, which is closing this June, and St. Mary’s Catholic School in Woodside.
Holden said that he will suggest a lot behind 69-02 Queens Blvd. in Elmhurst that has been proposed for housing. He noted that the lot was recently discussed for rezoning due to an interest by developers, but added that it might have enough space for a school.
“We have to start building,” Holden said. “I want to give them a few locations in the next few weeks and hopefully have two good ones.”
Holden noted that the northern end of his district most desperately needs new school seats and added that PS 229, located on the border of Maspeth and Woodside, is currently at 125 percent capacity.
“Overcrowding in schools is an issue we are tackling across the city, and we consistently work closely with local stakeholders to identify potential sites,” said Miranda Barbot, a city Department of Education spokeswoman. “As part of the $6.5 billion in capital funding for capacity projects, we are opening nearly 4,000 seats in District 24 in the coming school years, and we will continue to partner with local communities to assess and address need.”