If it’s built, will they come?
For years, Sunset Park parents have voiced their concern over school overcrowding in the neighborhood, and it appears that help may be on the way.
This past December, Councilmember Carlos Menchaca announced that after months of proposals, plans were moving forward on building a school that would accommodate pre-K through eighth grade students on an empty lot on Third Avenue between 59th and 60th Streets.
“I voted yes along with all my colleagues in the New York City Council to authorize the mayor and School Construction Authority (SCA) to acquire the property and build a new elementary school in Sunset Park, one of the most overcrowded neighborhoods in the city,” Menchaca said in a statement. “Sunset Park parents, Community Board 7 and our Community Education Councils 20 and 15 have united with me around one very important goal: ensuring that the city builds more elementary schools now.”
President of Community Education Council District 20 Laurie Windsor added that the potential school is a step in the right direction. “It’s definitely going to help everyone there. The majority of the district is overcrowded, especially there, and we need to help relieve some of those schools,” she said. “We need a few more schools but at least this will help quite a bit. It’s a beautiful sized property, which is what we need to make an impact on overcrowding.”
Nonetheless, some parents and community groups worry that the location is far from ideal.
“We are concerned about this school site for Sunset Park’s children given the dangers in crossing Third Avenue and increased exposure to toxic particulates,” Javier Salamanca and Victoria Quiroz-Becerra of Make Space for Quality Schools in Sunset Park told this paper.
The group also feels there’s a greater need in other areas of Sunset. “While this school will likely relieve overcrowding in one area of the neighborhood, the true need remains east of Fifth Avenue,” they said.
Former Assemblymember Javier Nieves shares similar concerns, but feels that the school could potentially be a positive step in fixing overcrowding. “Two concerns come to mind. One is the safety issues that it brings,” he said. “However, there’s nothing that can’t be remedied in terms of how you cross Third Avenue. It’s a more congested area where traffic comes to a head, but safety can be fixed with an overpass and congestion designs, so we can alleviate those concerns.”
As far as alternative sites are concerned, Nieves said, “I think there are more appropriate sites. The city should start looking towards the waterfront area or possibly below Third Avenue in the 50s.”
Maria Roca, founder of Friends of Sunset Park, agrees that other sites should be looked at. “Some alternative sites not being seriously considered,” she said. “We want to see more energy invested in making the hard decisions that would site a school east of Fifth Avenue, which is an area that is healthier and within safe walking distance of the families that really need the schools.”
However, Windsor states that precautions will be taken to ensure the safety of the space. “Both the city and state Departments of Transportation would be involved and give suggestions for a safety plan,” she said, adding that collaboration is also vital. “There will be plenty of opportunity for community input at various board and CEC meetings, along with elected officials. It’s not going to be done in isolation. It’s going to be a public process so families are aware and can make suggestions.”
According to CB7, the site, which was originally proposed as a hotel, would accommodate a five-story school that would seat approximately 750 students. Designs will be completed by summer.