Thursday, June 25, 2009

Parents Push for Overdue School Expansion

By Conor Greene

A group of parents are pushing for improvements at PS/IS 87 in Middle Village they say were promised years ago but never happened due to budget cuts after 9/11. Citing issues including a cramped cafeteria and lack of bathrooms, the group vowed to make noise until the school gets the attention from city officials they say it needs.

A half-dozen residents spoke at Tuesday’s Community Education Council 24 meeting in Maspeth in support for the addition. They argued that the school was changed from K-5to pre-K through 8th grades as a result of the planned expansion, and as a result the current building can’t handle the more than seven hundred students who attend PS/IS 87.

“We’ve been quiet these past five years and watched as all these other schools got expansions,” said Lucy Accardo, who has three children in PS/IS 87. “We just want to be kept in the limelight and will keep bringing up the issue at every meeting unit it happens.”

The parents stressed that their demands are modest. They want a new gymnasium since the current cafeteria only seats 140 students – forcing lunch to be served in stages beginning at 10:15 a.m. In addition, the cafeteria serves as a gym, even though its ceilings are just eight feet high. In addition, each floor has bathrooms containing just a single stall that must be shared by hundreds of students, according to the parents.

“It’s just not adequate for all those students,” said another parent, Margaret Kane. “We’re still where we started in 2000. It’s beyond us why we’re being overlooked.” She added that the bathroom situation is not healthy. “It’s not luxuries we’re looking for, it’s all necessities.”

Deputy Executive Director of Business Sandy Brawer of the Department of Education said he will bring the residents’ concerns back to department officials. However, he noted earlier in the evening that District 24 has received the most capital dollars and had the most additional seats added through construction of any district citywide. He also noted that all expansion projects were done in consultation with the CEC and community, at which point the issue of PS/IS 87 being overlooked could have been raised.

Nick Comaianni, president of CEC 24, said he agrees with the requests being made by the parents. “I feel it’s a shame” that the expansion never occurred, he said. “We’ve pushed it with the School Construction Authority and with Facilities, and it’s always the same thing.”

Laura Wittmer told the council that her son graduated from eighth grade this year. “I’m very sad to see that nothing too much was done for him,” adding that she is “angry” over the lack of upgrades at the 80th Street building. Her son, who is over six-feet tall, was forced to take gym classes in a room with eight-foot ceilings. “I just feel it’s unfair,” she said.

Finally, parent Jeanne Forster pointed out that the DOE’s Website still lists the school as being a K-5 facility. “That I think is one of our first concerns – the school needs to be reflected accurately on the Website,” she said. “It is very hard to change perceptions [so] right off the bat we are swimming upstream here… We’re talking about a pretty small extension.”

In a letter to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, the parents note that Mayor Michael Bloomberg deemed PS/IS 87 “a model for special education” after it became the first school in District 24 to convert to Pre-K to 8th grade facility. “How do you expect our school to compete with the other schools all several blocks away from us when they have extensions and we do not?” the parents questioned.

According to the letter, extensions were completed at PS 113, PS 128, PS 49 and MS 119 since funding for PS/IS 87 was cut. “Please do not mistake the fact that we have been quiet for the past five years as naivety or ignorance of what is going on around us,” the letter states. “We are well aware of the great injustice being doled out to our children. We would appreciate that this situation be rectified as soon as possible.”

Despite the parents' vows to keep pushing until the addition moves forward, the DOE said in a statement that no upgrades are planned for PS 87 in the coming years. The department "never committed to building an addition for PS 87," according to spokesman William Havemann. As a result of lobbying by former Councilman Dennis Gallagher, a science lab was constructed at the school, but that is the extend of upgrades planned for the facility.

"Given very limited resources... it is our responsibility to build a new school facility only when one is needed to meet enrollment demands," said Havemann. "While we're opening more than 3,000 school seats in District 24 over the next two years, we predict no need for an addition for PS 87."

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