BY LYNN EDMONDS
Some Northern Queens residents have grown increasingly angry at the prospect of a high school opening up at the former Bayside Jewish Center at 203-05 32nd Ave.
Protesters crashed a meeting between Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside), the School Construction Authority and “stakeholders,” on Monday at PS 159, saying they lived near the former Synagogue and should have been invited.
Conflict over the proposed 739-seat high school has been brewing for months. State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) held numerous rallies protesting the site, while the SCA says that School District 26, where the proposed high school would be, is one of the most overcrowded in the city.
The Bayside Jewish Center and the SCA have entered into a signed contract for sale, and are currently engaged in a 45-day public review period. After the public comment period ends on Nov. 20th, the SCA must obtain approval from the City Council and the Mayor.
Opponents of the school say it would destroy their quality of life by increasing traffic, taking away parking and perhaps the neighborhood’s peaceful veneer as well. Many also said that the high school would serve students from outside their own immediate community, and as such provide little benefit to local residents.
Prepared to picket outside, opponents brought signs with slogans like “Save Our Neighborhood: No School.” But officials let them in to the high school where the meeting was to take place.
Addressing his disgruntled constituents, Vallone argued that the proposed school was a deal between two private parties and that it wasn’t in his power or anybody else’s to stop it.
“We go along with this journey as it happens,” he said, “We can’t stop it.”
Chadney Spencer, who opposed the school, said Vallone had taken a different stance when a high school was proposed in Whitestone.
“You ran around defending Whitestone to get the vote,” he said.
The SCA abandoned plans for the Whitestone site, at 150-33 6th Ave, after Vallone and other community members protested and petitioned.
The Queens Tribune reported in April 2014 that “Vallone personally delivered more than 500 signatures against the plan to [SCA CEO Lorraine] Grillo.”
Vallone said in a statement at the time “I never stopped pushing the SCA to commit to abandoning this plan.”
A Vallone staffer said the Whitestone site had not progressed as far in the sales process at the time that Vallone opposed it, and that Vallone had been acting as a private individual to protest the site, as he was not an elected official at the time. The staffer also said the Whitestone site had been a more inappropriate site than the Bayside one.
Instead of opposing the school, which Vallone said there was nothing constituents could do to stop, the councilman and SCA reps suggested that community members get involved in the planning process, and give input into what type of school they wanted, and even what they wanted the building to look like.
Neighbors were split as to their reaction.
“I don’t care what goes inside as long as it looks like it belongs in our neighborhood,” one man said.
But Spencer wasn’t ready to talk about architecture.
“I don’t want to talk about glass and brick,” he said. “You slid this under the rug.”
SCA Chief of Staff Melanie La Rocca maintained that the school building would be built so as to fit in with the surrounding architecture.
The World Journalism Preparatory School, a high achieving middle and high school, pitched itself as an ideal candidate for the site.
“Why go with unfamiliar when you’ve got familiar, exciting and successful?” Principal Cynthia Schneider asked.
To which someone in the audience shouted, “Don’t be greedy, just accept what you have.”
Some community members said they were interested in the well-regarded school setting up shop in Bayside. For a portion of those, the draw was that they believed kids from their own community, not other communities, would make up most of the student body.
“I define community as the neighborhood that’s here, not the kid that’s going to be come from Manhattan,” one opponent said pointedly.
“Why are we the band-aid for bad parenting in Ozone Park?” Spencer asked, in an apparent reference to the idea of children from other communities attending the proposed school.
“So nobody else is allowed in this community?” Vallone protested.
On Tuesday, opponents of the high school got another boost when Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) and U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing), sent a joint letter to the SCA expressing their opposition to the proposed high school.
On Wednesday, Vallone announced he was drafting legislation to change the SCA’s site selection process.
Community Board 11 will hold a public hearing on the high school at M.S. 158, 46-35 Oceania St., Bayside, at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 2nd. Those who wish to speak should call CB 11 to sign up.