In an attempt to alleviate the continuing overcrowding plaguing Sunset Park schools, the city’s Department of Education has proposed a new elementary school for the neighborhood.
Plans for the site, located on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 36th Street, were presented by the New York City School Construction Authority (SCA) during a site selection hearing on Tuesday, June 21 at Community Board 7.
The school would be around 19,000 square feet and seat approximately 404 students in Community School District 15.
Tamar Smith of the SCA, who stressed that the planning is currently in the early stages, told concerned parents, “We are excited because this is one of several new sites that we have presented in the last few months. We had a seller that was offering the space and it’s a nice sized space.”
Throughout the meeting, parents voiced concerns. Many attendees asked why this is considered a good location given its close proximity to the bus depot and constant traffic.
“On the opposite site of the street, there is also a gas station and a car wash,” noted Jeremy Laufer, district manager of CB 7.
Smith assured her listeners that all concerns would be taken into account. “When we do our environmental impact studies, that will be one of the main things we will study,” she said. “This is a busy neighborhood like most of New York. There aren’t a lot of sites that are quiet and country-like. The safety of the kids is always our top priority.”
Laufer cited examples of schools placed in similar areas. “One school recently opened on Caton Avenue, one of our most dangerous truck routes in the area,” he explained. “The Department of Transportation (DOT) came in and did traffic studies and added many different safety aspects which helped alleviate the problems. We have another school being built on Third Avenue between 59th and 60th Streets. It’s the most dangerous intersection in this community but DOT is also coming in for that project and we’re going to be doing significant upgrades to the intersection there.
“Don’t think this is just a school project,” he stressed.
Superintendent of District 15 Anita Skop was also in attendance to discuss how to best handle zoning. “One of the things that we will take into consideration as we begin to build is how do we rezone or create an application process for this school? To be honest, I’m thinking lottery at this point in time,” she said. “We at the Department of Education and the district office are going to look at the flow of kids, what would best serve kids in the district. We want to make sure kids are not in overcrowded situations and they’re getting best education possible.
“Sunset Park has been historically an underserved area,” Skop added. “We have been waiting a very long time to get seats here and we are grateful to get any scrap of land we can find. This is a wonderful opportunity for us to have more seats for the kids that occupy our building.”
Councilmember Carlos Menchaca also recently chimed in on the proposal. “Finding new school sites in Sunset Park is an urgent priority,” he said in a statement. “I am proud that for the first time in decades, we are making real progress. In addition to the three Sunset Park locations we’ve secured in the last two years, a fourth site at 36th Street and Fifth Avenue is now set to become a school for about 400 students. Recent progress is encouraging, but we have a lot more work to do.”
Still, not everyone is optimistic about the site. “Honestly, I think they just gave us the runaround,” said Maribel Vasquez following the meeting. “They’ve already decided what they want to do and they don’t care about what any of us think. They don’t care about what they are doing to the children because they’re putting the children in danger. There’s a bus depot up there where the buses come in and out.”
Several steps must still be taken before the SCA can purchase the property. Once the plan goes through various levels of review, it must be approved by the City Council and finally the mayor. At that point, said Smith, SCA can purchase the property, design a school to fit the site and then begin construction which could take two or three years.