By Conor Greene
The city’s plans to build a 600-seat school at the former Rite Aid site on Metropolitan Avenue was overwhelmingly backed by Community Board 5 members at last week’s meeting, albeit with some specific requests.
Despite backing the project, some members of the advisory board were unhappy with the lack of specific details provided by the city Department of Education. “We really didn’t see any plans at all for the site… so I’m giving this recommendation kind of blind in many respects,” said Walter Sanchez, chair of the board’s Land Use Committee. However, “I really don’t feel the board should object to a school there,” he added.
Under the current plans, the city School Construction Authority would build a new K-5school serving 600 students in hopes of easing overcrowding in District 24, which is home to the city’s most overcrowded schools. Three board members – Manny Caruana, Sylvia Knappi and Chairman Vincent Arcuri voted against the proposal.
Among the board’s stipulations are that a 16 foot wide driveway be built around the perimeter of the school, which would replace the vacant pharmacy on the site, to prevent buses from causing traffic backups along Metropolitan Avenue. “We believe it is vital that provisions be made for providing space within the property exterior,” wrote CB 5 District Manager Gary Giordano in a letter sent recently to the SCA.
The board is also requesting that the school be zoned so that it draws from neighborhood children currently attending PS 153 and PS 71, which are both currently overcrowded.
“Unfortunately, presentations to our board lacked specifics related to youth demographics in the area, and the specifics of overcrowding in nearby schools, justifying the need for this multi-million dollar project,” wrote Giordano. “Our inquires indicate that the overcrowding at nearby PS 153 impacts approximately 300 children, and that PS 71 in Ridgewood, while not as overcrowded, may be able to have a library and gym if this new primary school is build.”
The city has already agreed to Community Education Council 24’s request that the facility be built so that it can be converted to a K-8 building in the future if needed. The board has asked that an “appropriate size” gym be included in the final plans.
Sanchez also noted at last week’s CB 5 meeting that he would like the board to be presented with detailed drawings so that members can provide additional input.
Following the vote, Arcuri said he voted against the plan because “once again, SCA and DOE have failed to present demographics to prove the need for this school and to show where students would be coming from. That should be the first presentation by DOE,” he said. “We have down-zoned most of our district, yet we continue to come up with more classrooms.”
In response, board member Dan Creighton said he think “we owe it to our children to have schools that are the proper size” and include amenities such as a proper size gym and science labs.
There was also the feeling that it doesn’t matter in the end what board members and the community say to the city. “The point is, they don’t really care about the community board’s opinion one way or another,” said Vernon McDermott. “They feel they can put it through with or without us.”