Senior housing development at Zion Lutheran Church may add pre-k seats

Sunset Park continues to look for ways to add seats to alleviate the school overcrowding issue.

During an education committee meeting at Community Board 7, many voices were heard regarding the continuing problem, along with possible solutions. One of the latest proposals includes the School Construction Authority (SCA) and Fifth Avenue Committee adding pre-kindergarten seats at the site of the shuttered Zion Lutheran Church on Fourth Avenue, which is currently planned to be turned into an eight-story senior and affordable housing development.

Tamar Smith of the SCA told parents during the committee meeting on Monday, March 6 that space may be available as NYU Lutheran Medical Center, which had originally planned to have a clinic there, may no longer be a part of the facility.

“The pre-K would be instead of the health clinic,” Director of Housing Development for the Fifth Avenue Committee Jay Marcus told parents inquiring about the plan via email. “At the meetings we had with the block associations and neighbors last year, several people discussed the need for additional pre-k and school spaces and when the health clinic proved not viable, we approached the School Construction Authority. We are still in discussions, however. If this moves forward, then we will of course meet again with the community board, block associations and neighbors.”

Cesar Zuniga, CB7 Education Committee chair, told this paper his thoughts on the space. “What we made really clear to Tamar is this by no means should be taken as or seen as resting on our laurels,” he said. “I think everyone is in agreement that this only starts to address some of the space issues that we have in Sunset Park.”

Attendees also chimed in on the possible addition of seats. Parent Jovita Sosa said it would be a step in the right direction but may not be enough to address the larger problem. “I agree that pre-k seats are needed but if somehow the ground floor at the senior center could be an annex for P.S. 971 (located across the street from the former church), and not only pre-k but kindergarten classes are gained, that would make the greatest impact,” she said.

“It’s good to have more pre-k seats clearly, but it’s a very short term solution,” added Maria Roca of Friends of Sunset Park. “Anyone I’ve spoken to since that meeting, of course they’re happy because the need is so great, but we’re still not seeing an effort across different agencies that would utilize available land-use strategies and incentives, such as land swaps, making land uphill of Third Avenue suitable for thousands of school seats.”

Zuniga also discussed a smaller meeting that took place at Councilmember Carlos Menchaca’s office on Thursday, March 9 that included him, advocates and community members to talk about a variety of planned added seats, including the newly announced 72 pre-k seats at 25th Street between Fourth and Fifth Avenues, the old C-Town site at Eighth Avenue and 48th Street, and the landmarked 68th Precinct building at Fourth Avenue and 43rd Street.

“Between the C-Town, the precinct building, the school on 59th, and the 25th Street property, we’re not even at 1,000 seats and the projection [of what is needed] is about 3,500 seats,” Zuniga said. “We need to figure out the majority which is still outstanding.”

St. Agatha School, which will close its doors after the school year, was also brought up as a possible public school site, but not many details were given.

“There was nothing substantial said other than the SCA has reached out to the diocese to express interest in the property but it’s so new, beyond that they have nothing to tell us,” added Zuniga.

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