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DOE Needs Early Community Input

TimesLedger Newspapers

For decades, a 6-acre lot in Whitestone has sat vacant, but now education officials are considering the location as a spot to build a new high school.

Former plans for the plot included a 55-home development by Whitestone Jewels LLC and a sports complex, an idea which the Malba Gardens Civic Association floated in 2011. The site, however, which was previously owned by the Catholic Youth Organization, has only held some tennis courts and a swimming pool left over from the youth organization, which shuttered in 1988.

On Saturday, a group of 150 people — mostly Whitestone residents — attended a petition rally along 5th Avenue in hopes of galvanizing opposition to the possibility that the site could be used for a school, saying it would cause traffic and lower home values in the area. Residents also complained that the city did not seek community input when selecting the lot for review.

Much like those in opposition to a proposed school at the former site of Keil Bros. Garden Center and Nursery in Bayside, community members believe they have been left out of the process.

The city Department of Education says that when determining where to place new schools, the city School Construction Authority conducts initial surveys of potential sites, sending representatives to the area to make assessments as proposals are drafted.

Afterward, the plan is brought to the community for review.

This was the case when SCA officials went to Community Board 11 about the Keil Bros. site, and education officials said a plan for the Whitestone location had not yet been presented to neighborhood leaders, as it was still in the early stages.

While the effects of any new school on the surrounding area cannot truly be estimated until proposals are released, the Department of Education’s plan will surely face additional scrutiny because of perceived secrecy of the process.

The city needs to give people who will be living around the schools an opportunity earlier on to voice their opinion by alerting the community that a site is being considered.

Transparency is key.

This will ensure a better relationship between the education officials and residents, whose children will likely become students in schools that the DOE plans to build.

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Jeremy from Whitestone says:
The 6-acre site in Whitestone is an inappropriate place for school as matter of practicality and “on-the-ground logistics”. The site’s location is tightly tucked among residential homes in a nook in the northernmost part of Queens. Locating a school in such site would not only jeopardize the health, safety, and well-being of the surrounding residents, but would also pose serious safety issues to the prospective students attending such a school. The site’s geographical location, coupled with the surrounding municipal infrastructure, poses significant challenges that are simply not worth the risk of pursuing. An increase in vehicular traffic mixed with an increase in pedestrian traffic precipitated by a school pose disastrous consequences. There few ways in an out of the area, and the roads that do exist are not large enough to support buses, cars, and the complimentary traffic pattern to accommodate such vehicles on a given school day.
The implications are two-fold: the standard of quality of life for the surrounding residents will be significantly downgraded by idling vehicles, loitering students, and the waste that goes along with it. For the prospective students and staff of such a school, traffic delays and safety concerns of a tight area of operation. In a tight traffic scenario the risk of pedestrian accidents is extremely elevated and the current situation at the site at issue is no different. The safety and health concerns grow even higher during after-school activities like sporting events, dances, graduations, or other events garnering high attendance at an auditorium.
Finally, the impact on the nearby village/commercial area of Whitestone stand to also become even more-so congested than it already is. The effect taking the form of increase thru-traffic to reach the location of the school and droves of students walking to and from the area. Clearly any thoughtful survey of the area will readily identify these concerns and issues as well as others. These concerns are simply the more obvious ones. Recognizing that the City is only surveying the sight, the City should “no-go” this site and not force a school and create a that will only implicate the health, safety, and well-being of all involved. The residents deserve to live in an area that they bargained to live in when the moved there, and the students deserve to attend a school at a site that can support their ease of attendance, studies, and extracurricular activities . The Whitestone site is not the place for a school.
Oct. 14, 2013, 1:34 pm

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