Thursday, August 13, 2009

Parents, Crowley Push for PS 87 Upgrades

DOE Officials Visit School in Response to Complaints

By Conor Greene

Pleas to have the bathrooms and cafeteria at PS 87 upgraded have fallen on deaf ears over the past few years because the school isn’t as overcrowded as others in the area, but residents are hopeful progress is being made now that Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley has joined their fight for better conditions at the Middle Village school.

The problem started nearly a decade ago when the school was converted into a pre K-8 facility, according to residents. Along with the conversion came promises of an expansion, for which money was earmarked and plans were drawn. While the school did switch over from a K-5 building, the addition never moved forward.

As a result, the school now has about 600 students enrolled, but the cafeteria can only hold 100 people and doubles as a gymnasium, even though its ceilings are just eight feet high. Even worse, say parents, is that there are just two toilets per floor – meaning each is expected to serve more than a hundred students.

“Originally when we were asked to go to [pre] K-8 we were promised an extension, but that never happened,” said parent Bernadette Beninati, who has two daughters enrolled at PS 87. “What happened, we don’t know, but we didn’t get anything. It’s not luxuries we’re looking for, it’s necessities for our kids… During the swine flu outbreak children were lined up to get into the bathroom, it’s just crazy.”

A group of parents has pleaded the case for upgrades at recent Community Education Council meetings over the past few months, but in June the DOE said that no upgrades are planned for PS 87 in the coming years. While a science lab was constructed there several years ago, the department otherwise “never committed to building an addition” at the site, according to Will Havemann of the DOE.

Since then, Crowley (D-Middle Village) has joined the fight on the parents’ behalf and toured PS 87 last Friday with DOE officials. “I am pleased that the Department of Education came out to PS 87 to see for themselves the school’s dire need for additional facilities,” she said. “The years between pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, especially at junior high school age, are some of the most impressionable on a student’s physical, emotional and academic development. How can we encourage kids to exercise and use athletics as a positive outlet without a space for physical education.”

In a statement released Tuesday, Havemann said that there are no plans to build an addition at PS 87 since the school “is not overcrowded and there is no school-age growth projected for the school’s neighborhood… Especially given the city’s difficult economic circumstances, it is essential that we prioritize school construction for the neighborhoods that need it most.”

Still, Havemann said that “In the coming months, we’ll work with the PS 87 community and Councilmember Crowley to determine how we can best address their concerns without the construction of a costly and unnecessary addition.”

Crowley vowed to continue advocating on behalf of upgrades at PS 87. “I believe the DOE’s visit to the school [last week] demonstrates a step in the right direction. I will continue to work with the DOE to ensure that the needs of the PS 87 community are addressed.”

For the PS 87 parents, the needs are simple: enough bathrooms to accommodate the building’s enrollment, a proper gym that allows students to exercise and enough cafeteria space to avoid starting lunch sessions at 10:10 a.m. “I’m glad they came in and saw what we’re talking about, and now I’m hopeful they will agree with us and see what we’re talking about in terms of necessities,” said Beninati. “The curriculum is great, the teachers are great, the principal is great, it’s just the necessities that are [lacking].”

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