Proposed pre-school near Prince Hotel raises hackles

Ridge residents were up in arms on Wednesday, February 25 at a Community Board 10 hearing held just blocks away from 369 93rd Street – a neighbor to the controversial Prince Hotel and proposed site for the city’s first stand-alone early childhood center.

The site, currently a one-story podiatrist’s office, is slated to become a three-story universal pre-k center with eight classrooms, 144 seats and a small outdoor play area but, according to School Construction Authority (SCA) reps, that’s only if it passes the formal review process, gaining approval from the community.

“The purpose of this hearing is to find out, does the community feel that this is an appropriate location for a universal pre-k center?” noted Tami Rachelson, deputy director of real estate services for SCA.

With the majority of the audience against the proposal, neighbors cited everything from the thousands of dollars in open violations at the hostelry to heavy truck traffic, already limited parking and even cell phone towers as should-be roadblocks.

“Before you put a school somewhere, you have to understand what’s around the school. You don’t just build it,” said 93rd Street resident and Third Avenue business-owner Stephanie Moustakas, asserting that the Prince Hotel – which has more than 45 open Department of Building violations – has been a plague on the neighborhood for years. “How could a place that owes so much money in violations still be in business?”

“I wouldn’t want to subject little children to the Prince Hotel and the drugs [we see on this block],” agreed Moustakas’ daughter, Athena. “Why you would want to do that is beyond me.”

Still, the adverse history of the Prince Hotel isn’t the only thing standing in the way of the new site.

“The construction logistics, noise hazards and influx of vehicles and workers onto the street to build a 144-plus seat school, plus teachers and staff will be more than a tiny 93rd street can bear,” urged resident Jared Milano. “I think that there’s a better place for that school than that tiny block, somewhere more central to Bay Ridge and somewhere with more space for the children to play with less hazards.”

“My thing is that there are so many other locations,” argued another resident, naming both the former site of Cranberry’s – a lot at 9013 Fourth Avenue on its way to becoming an auto shop – and the former nunnery at the corner of 95th Street and Fourth Avenue slated to become a seven-story development as viable options.

On the other hand, one resident contended that a pre-school would shed some much-needed positive light on the block.

“I think it’s something that the neighborhood needs and that the block needs,” the resident, a parent who lives directly across the street from the site, said. “When I moved [to the block], I was completely horrified – I still am – but I know that everyone is working really, really hard to change those things and I think that this school will bring a lot of positive [to the block].

“I know that the traffic and everything else will be annoying but we need to think about [the children],” she went on. “The other issues obviously need to be addressed [first], but I’m 100 percent for it.”

When asked by members of CB 10’s Land Use and Zoning Committee why this site was the most favorable of a number under consideration, Rachelson said the agency simply thought it was the better site.

“This is on a relatively quiet residential street and it was available for sale,” said Rachelson, stressing that since this would be an acquisition, rather than a leasing, negotiations are contingent upon community approval.

According to CB 10 District Manager Josephine Beckmann, there are a number of other sites the SCA is considering for universal pre-k – a program for which District 20 was granted roughly 4,000 seats – all of which would be leased and, therefore, would not require community approval.

“This district is extremely overcrowded and there is a shortage of pre-k seats,” said Beckmann at the hearing which ended with the committee making a recommendation to support the construction of a pre-k center at the site but with conditions that the block’s adverse history and the safety concerns be taken into consideration, and that the board be able to meet with the SCA as it approaches the design phase.

“Bringing [the Prince Hotel] into compliance, I can assure you, has been a priority of this board,” Beckmann stressed.

Community Education Council 20 President Laurie Windsor is happy to see the site up for debate.

“We’re happy that there’s more pre-k seats coming in because, last time, we didn’t get any additional pre-k seats because we didn’t have any place to put it so now that they’re looking for facilities, it’s a no-brainer,” she said. “In terms of it being on the same block as the Prince Hotel, maybe now it will bring some attention to it.”

A representative for the Prince Hotel could not be reached for comment.

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