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Campus named for Padavan stirs campaign controversy

The city Department of Education renamed the Glen Oaks Campus after state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) Monday amid criticism from the Democratic challenger to Padavan's Senate seat, who claimed the honor was politically motivated.

Padavan created legislation in 1998 that transferred the land where the campus is situated, which housed buildings of the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center, to the city so the school complex could be built.

"I suggested to [former Schools] Chancellor [Rudy] Crew that it would be a great place to build schools," Padavan said. He said he learned that the property, which was owned by the state, was going to be auctioned off to the highest bidder before he intervened.

The Glen Oaks Campus is now known as The Frank Padavan Campus at Glen Oaks. Signs were changed at the front entrance to the campus on Union Turnpike and at an archway closer to the schools.

The campus houses two K-8 schools and the Queens High School of Teaching. It opened its doors in 2003 and had its first graduating classes last year.

"The work of Sen. Padavan was instrumental in making it happen," said Schools Chancellor Joel Klein at a Monday news conference announcing the name change.

He said the senator "overcame significant community opposition" to the schools, referring to traffic concerns. "Frank went above and beyond to make sure the work got done."

But City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), who is gearing up for a Senate run against Padavan, questioned the timing of the renaming since it was done during an election year when the senator is expected to face a tough election battle.

"What just took place at the Glen Oaks educational campus is not only a new low in the annals of political desperation, but possibly illegal as well," Gennaro said in a statement.

He was referring to the Chancellor's Regulations, a guideline for education policy, which says "schools may not be named after living persons."

Gennaro claimed Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the senator were "blatantly using this school complex for the political purpose of helping Padavan hold on to power in an election year."

But Klein made the distinction that it was the campus, not the school buildings, that were being named after Padavan.

"This is, in my view, a unique situation," Klein said.

Padavan denied that the renaming was political, saying that Democratic elected officials were invited to the renaming. At the news conference, he pointed out that state Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D-Little Neck) sponsored the legislation that transferred the land to the city so the schools could be built.

Weprin did not attend the event, citing a scheduling conflict.

State Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village) was at the renaming, where she thanked Padavan and said, "I'm just happy that these three schools are here."

Former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, who was involved in creating the schools, declined to say whether she believed the renaming was political, only saying that "I know that (the schools) have a good reputation and that makes me happy."

"I don't know how the renaming came to be," she said in a phone interview. "I don't know what the rules are in terms of who's alive and whether or not you can name anybody until they're dead."

Although construction of the schools has long since been completed, Padavan said there is still more work to be done on the campus.

A facility on the campus known as Building 39 houses patients of the Queens Children's Hospital, which is located on nearby Commonwealth Boulevard.

The hospital is currently undergoing renovations. When that construction is finished, Building 39 will be demolished and the children will relocate to the hospital, Padavan said.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.

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