The perennial problem of school overcrowding in Sunset Park should be getting some relief as the New York City School Construction Authority (SCA) has proposed a site for a new, approximately 676-seat primary/intermediate school on the west side of Third Avenue between 59th and 60th Streets.
The proposed site is an assemblage of privately owned vacant land that totals approximately 47,000 square feet of lot area (1.07 acres). Talks of a possible hotel for the space were underway at one point, but fell through, according to sources at Community School District 20, in which the site is located.
Kenrick Ou, who handles real estate for the SCA, gave a presentation at a Community Board No. 7 meeting on Tuesday, February 17, in which he described the choice of the site as a “community-driven decision” that would help to alleviate overcrowding, a problem in District 20. The school would have a designated area for outdoor play.
Some in the community voiced safety concerns about the school’s proximity to ambulance routes to and from nearby Lutheran Medical Center, toxins from traffic and it being on a dangerous intersection off the Gowanus Expressway.
“I don’t think that that is the place for a school,” said Maria Roca, who attended Tuesday’s CB7 meeting. “Personally, if it were up to me alone, I would not build a school on that site, for the pollution, for the traffic considerations, all of that.”
In contrast, the idea of a new school was met with wide-open arms during a Community Education Council District 20 public hearing on Thursday, February 19.
“We have over 4,000 seats that are funded and ready to go and there’s no site, so 676 seats helps a little bit,” said Laurie Windsor, CEC 20’s president. “We need a lot more sites, but every site helps, so we’re thrilled, because we’re so overcrowded. We need more schools, so we’re very happy about it.”
The SCA will accept public comment on the site until March 19. All comments will be taken into consideration in SCA’s final decision regarding the matter.
If the site is approved and construction goes without any setbacks, the school should be completed by 2019. By then, according to Department of Education enrollment projections, between 46,196 and 48,418 elementary and intermediate school students would be enrolled in grades pre-k through eight in District 20, taking demographic projections and estimated housing growth into account. This could mean a potential increase of up to 10,613 students compared to current enrollment of District 20 schools.
“What we need in District 15 and District 20 in Sunset Park are more schools,” said Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, who attended Tuesday’s CB7 meeting and who represents the area. “Up to five schools are funded in the citywide SCA plan and so what we need to do as we get to each of these sites is to aggressively make it a priority for our community.”