Tag Archives: School Construction Authority

Community board chair fires back at Walcott over school employee threats


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

The city’s schools chancellor chastised a community board leader after residents allegedly threatened his employees at a rowdy Bayside meeting last week.

“I would never allow anyone to be treated in this manner and would expect that you have the same standard,” Dennis Walcott said.

The head of the city’s public education system expressed his “extreme dismay” at a heated Community Board 11 meeting last Monday, when one male and one female resident allegedly verbally threatened two School Construction Authority (SCA) officials.

An older man approached Chris Persheff, the SCA’s Queens site selection manager, called him a liar and threatened to break his legs, The Courier reported last week.

After that, an unidentified person allegedly followed Persheff’s partner, Monica Gutierrez, by car until Gutierrez pulled into an empty lot, city reps said.

The SCA officials were pitching a plan to build an elementary school for 416 students at 210-11 48th Avenue when the May 6 meeting grew contentious.

They plan to file a police report and might take legal action against the alleged belligerents, Gutierrez said.
The altercations occurred after the meeting had adjourned.

In a letter, Walcott said Community Board 11 Chair Jerry Iannece “enabled this behavior by not drawing any boundaries to the abuse.”

He said the proposed new school would alleviate overcrowded facilities in the area. But enraged residents said it would destroy their quality of life, worsen parking and traffic congestion and lead to dangerous crossing conditions for students.

Iannece fired back in a letter, defending his decade-long, “impeccable” reputation for fairness and order.

“As an uncompensated volunteer who has spent countless hours for the betterment of my community, I take personal offense by your remarks,” he said. “It is an affront to me and to all community board chairs, [who] do so much for our city.”

The community board’s education committee said bringing P.S. 130 back to their district would relieve area school congestion. The 200-01 42nd Avenue school is located within District 26, but has mostly served students from District 25 for at least two decades.

Moving the school back to its original district has long been deemed unviable by education officials.

Iannece invited the schools chancellor to review the meeting’s recorded minutes, which he said include a “poor presentation” by the SCA officials.

The two residents’ identities were not known as of press time.

“Although I can appreciate your desire to protect the staff,” Iannece said, “misplaced anger, compounded by erroneous accusations, doesn’t help.”

 

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City may take legal action after contentious Bayside community board meeting


| mchan@queenscourier.com

The city might take legal action after two school construction officials were threatened Monday at a contentious community board meeting.

Bayside residents were enraged at a proposal by the city’s School Construction Authority (SCA) to build a 416-seat elementary school at 210-11 48th Avenue.

They said it would destroy their quality of life, worsen parking and traffic congestion and lead to dangerous crossing conditions for students.

But two attendees took it too far, said Monica Gutierrez, one of two SCA representatives who pitched the application at the May 6 hearing.

Gutierrez said a woman in her 60s approached the pair of speakers after the meeting adjourned and verbally threatened them. Someone then allegedly followed Gutierrez in a car until she pulled into an empty lot.

“She said, ‘You’ll have what’s coming to you. You’ll see,’” Gutierrez said. “When you threaten somebody, there are repercussions. They’re not above the law. They acted very barbaric.”

An older man also approached Chris Persheff, the agency’s Queens site selection manager, at the end of the meeting. The man called Persheff a liar and threatened to break his legs, according to the manager.

“I’ve done this a lot,” he said. “Usually the audience can sort of separate whatever I’m saying with the issue at hand. I’ve never had this personalized before like this.”

Gutierrez said the angry resident “tried to be all up against” Persheff. She said she grabbed the man and told him to calm down.

“It’s too vulnerable of a position to be in,” Persheff said. “It’s just unacceptable.”

Community Board 11 Chair Jerry Iannece said emotions were high, but the threats were uncalled for.

“The residents are very frustrated. They’re skeptical about what they don’t know,” he said. “But I don’t condone violence in any form. There’s no place for intimidation.”

Gutierrez said the city may take legal action against the alleged verbal assailants.

A spokesperson for the city’s Department of Education said the department is “taking appropriate action.”

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott expressed his “extreme dismay” of the fracas in a letter to Iannece. He said the community board chair “enabled this behavior by not drawing any boundaries to the abuse.”

“I would never allow anyone to be treated in this manner and would expect that you have the same standard,” Walcott said.

Persheff said he would file a police report but had no further comment.

The two residents’ identities were not known as of press time.

“We’ve been in bad neighborhoods, low economic areas, and they treat us with respect,” Gutierrez said. “Yes, they voice their minds, but they respect people.”

“It’s sad,” she continued. “These people are adults, and that’s how they are treating people. We’re just out there trying to do our jobs.”

 

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Bayside residents oppose school in place of Keil Bros Garden Center


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

Build a school, say Bayside residents, just not in our backyards.

Community Board (CB) 11 voted against a controversial proposal to build an elementary school in the place of a popular garden center after enraged residents who live near the 210-11 48th Avenue site vehemently opposed it.

“This area is saturated with schools, and we can’t stand it anymore,” said resident Mandingo Tshaka. “Hell, no. That’s all I’m going to say.”

The owners of Keil Bros Garden Center and Nursery have struck a deal with the city to sell their entire Bayside property, including a home next to the store, for an undisclosed amount.

Ronald Keil, vice president of the family-run business, cited “the changing nature of the retail world” and “increasing costs of doing business” as reasons for the sale.

“Basically, it’s an uncertain economy,” he said.

Residents said the 416-seat school would destroy their quality of life, worsen parking and traffic congestion and lead to dangerous crossing conditions for students.

“It’s really a disaster in the making,” said Toby Pagano, 64, of Bayside. “I would be horrified, but not surprised, if there was an accident.”

There are 21 elementary schools in the district and 12 within CB 11’s jurisdiction, according to Susan Seinfeld, district manager of Community Board 11.

Local educators said the majority of them are heavily congested, with registration growing every year.

At least three schools have had to put classrooms in space originally meant for libraries or music, Seinfeld said.

“There’s an opportunity for a school to be built,” P.S. 41 Principal Sari Latto said. “We’re hoping that will alleviate some of that overcrowding.”

No designs for a new school have been laid out yet, according to School Construction Authority officials. The site selection process began in 2008 and honed in on the disputed site last month.

According to Keil, the city approached his 83-year-old business within the last two years. He said he and his brother are exploring options to continue the store in another part of Queens.

The garden center will be open for regular business for the rest of the year.

CB 11’s advisory vote now heads to the City Council for a final ruling.

“I do get the need for new schools,” said resident Carol Shriver, 55. “I understand that. But this is wrong. This is just the wrong place to build a school. They’re just asking for trouble.”

 

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New schools to ease overcrowding in western Queens


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Renderings courtesy of SCA

Two new schools will help alleviate overcrowding in Jackson Heights and Corona in the next two years, according to the School Construction Authority (SCA).

The first school, P.S. 287, is scheduled to debut this September at 110-08 Northern Boulevard in Corona. Located in District 24, the four-story building will serve pre-K through fifth grade and have a 420 student capacity, said the SCA.

I.S. 297 will be completed by September 2014 at 33-55 74th Street in Jackson Heights as part of District 30. The school is expected to have four floors, serve sixth through eighth grade and have a 400 student capacity.

“These two new schools, together with the ground we broke on the addition to P.S. 70, will go a long way towards easing overcrowding in western Queens schools. But, there is still more work to be done,” said Councilmember Peter F. Vallone Jr.

District 30 has been in need of more schools to keep up with a growing population, school leaders said.

“The more crowded it is, the harder it is to get things done, even with parents picking their kids up,” said Isaac Carmignani, co-president of the District 30 Community Education Council. “Anytime we get seats, anytime we get schools, it’s good for us. We’re grateful for anything that we are given.”

Overcrowding has also been a problem in District 24 as school construction failed to keep up with the growing population of families, especially new immigrants looking to make the neighborhoods in the district their home, according to InsideSchools.org.

“I have been in constant contact with the Department of Education to ensure that a comprehensive plan is established to address the overcrowding in my district,” said Councilmember Julissa Ferreras.

Last March, the department announced it would add 6,000 new school seats over the next two years in order to ease overcrowding in the borough.

According to the SCA, along with the brand-new school buildings, P.S. 287 will have two playgrounds at the back of the school. I.S. 297’s playground will be located on land purchased by the city across the street from the school.

 

I.S. 297 rendering 

 

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Corona school plans halted over street closure


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Rendering courtesy of DOE

Concerned over congestion, a Community Board slammed on the brakes when construction plans for a Corona school involved a temporary street closing.

According to Community Board 4 District Manager Christian Cassagnol, the board voted down the motion 14 to 10 when the Department of Education (DOE) and the School Construction Authority (SCA) requested 44th Avenue between 97th Place and Junction Boulevard be closed for the duration of the P.S. 315’s construction, adding that the proposal also included 97th Place be turned into a northbound one-way street.

Expected to be completed by 2015, P.S. 315 will cost $40 million and house 1,100 students. According to a DOE spokesperson, Community Board 4’s vote against the street closing does not stop SCA from continuing with the project. The spokesperson added that the DOE has submitted a request for street closure with the Department of Transportation (DOT), which has not yet approved.

Recognizing the desperate need for a new school in the neighborhood, fraught with severe overcrowding, Cassagnol said it’s not the school itself the board is against, but the street closure that the SCA feels is a necessary part of its construction.

Cassagnol alleged that several community board members were displeased with the design of the school, stating that while the design was beautiful, it did not conform to the aesthetic of the surrounding neighborhood. The school’s location had also formerly been disputed over. According to Cassagnol, Community Board 4’s former District Manager Richard Italiano proposed several alternate locations for the school that were all turned down by city officials.

Representatives from the SCA could not be reached for comment as of press time.

Added room will help expand minds in Middle Village


| brennison@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/photo by Mike DiBartolomeo

Middle Village students will soon have more room to expand their minds.

Construction is underway on an extension at P.S./I.S 87 in Middle Village that will add a gym, music room and classrooms, among other amenities, to the school.

In 2002, the school — located at 67-54 80th Street — expanded to add grades six through eight, which meant the gym needed to be upgraded, said Nick Comaianni, president of Community Education Council 24.

Currently, the students are cramped into a lunchroom during gym, which parents and leaders have said for years needed an upgrade.

Then Chancellor Joel Klein was given a tour of the facilities in 2009 by Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley. Klein again visited the school in 2010 for a CEC24 meeting where Comaianni, students and parents displayed the need for a new gym.

After that visit, Klein emailed Comaianni, informing him he would instruct the School Construction Authority to approve an extension for the school.

The project was added to the budget and approved by the city council in July of 2010.

The $21 million expansion will include the new gym with bleachers, a boys’ and girls’ locker room, a music room with storage, a practice room, four new air conditioned classrooms, a boys’ and girls’ bathroom in the basement and on the first and second floors and an elevator, the DOE said. The existing building will also receive a new fire alarm system, a new air conditioner in the existing auditorium and a new early child playground.

“Parents deserve to send their child to a local school with small class sizes and the resources necessary to ensure a quality education,” said Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley. “This new extension will help P.S./I.S. 87 meet these goals. Whether it’s working on their jump shots or learning the clarinet, students will finally have the proper facilities in smaller class sizes for a well-rounded education. I was proud to work with the Department of Education and the Middle Village community to get this project started.”

Because the school was originally intended for elementary students, many facilities were not suitable for middle schoolers, something this addition should change, Comaianni said.

“Now, it’s a real K to eight [institution],” he said

The construction, which began earlier this summer, is scheduled to be completed by the start of next school year, according to the Department of Education.

New Woodside school to ease overcrowding


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

The city is using several empty lots to ensure students in one of New York’s most congested school districts don’t get lost in the “crowd.”

Due to collaboration between the Department of Education (DOE), School Construction Authority (SCA) and Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, the city plans to purchase a cluster of land in Woodside to construct a new elementary school– easing overcrowding in school District 30 by creating roughly 430 new seats.

“I have been looking for a school in that area since I started at the Community Education Council (CEC) nine years ago. This decision is huge,” said Jeff Guyton, co-president of CEC District 30. “We are growing big time in Sunnyside and Woodside, and we are very successful. We have great schools and great leadership in the district, and it is a big thing to put another school in this area that is overcrowded.”

Van Bramer, prompted by the situation at P.S. 11, an elementary school in the area currently operating at 117 percent capacity, has worked with the SCA to address the overcrowding issues in Sunnyside and Woodside.

“This agreement comes at a time when CEC 30 is in the midst of some of the worst overcrowding in the city of New York,” said Van Bramer. “Today’s announcement shows a commitment by both the SCA and the DOE to address this problem in our district. This agreement will not only give our children the adequate space that is needed to learn, but will also alleviate the strain that has been put on schools in the surrounding area.”

Local elected officials echoed the councilmember, emphasizing the negative effect overcrowding can have on education.

“No child should have to fight for a desk, school supplies or the attention of their teachers,” said Congressmember Joseph Crowley. “There is no question Queens is in need of new and better school facilities and today’s announcement is a step forward in addressing the needs of Woodside students. But our efforts must continue, and I will keep fighting in Congress to ensure that schools in Queens receive their fair share of federal funds and that the education of our children comes first.”

Construction on the building is scheduled to begin in the spring or summer of 2013, and the new school is expected to open in September of 2015.

Despite the major boost the new school will provide the area, Guyton believes more measures are necessary if the problem of overcrowding is to be solved.

“Woodside and Sunnyside have been needing help for a long time,” he said. “But we need help in Jackson Heights also. We are still looking for options in Jackson Heights, which is our most intense area of overcrowding.”

Parents from P.S. 234 angry over unusable school gym


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

DSC_0011w

Parents from P.S. 234 are exercising their voices in disapproval of the delay in reopening the school’s flood-ravaged gymnasium.

The elementary school, located at 30-15 29th Street in Astoria, has been without a gym since September due to damage caused by severe rain storms. The flooding produced “bumps” in the gym floor and has prevented the facility from being used thus far this semester, prompting many parents to wonder whether their children are receiving the proper physical education.

“It’s terrible,” said Fred Fowler, whose daughter Sydney is a fourth grader at P.S. 234. “The kids need the gym. Every school should have a working gym.”

Fowler said that his daughter is athletically active on the weekends, but that she “should not have to wait until then.”
Jackie Soto, who has two children attending P.S. 234 — eight-year-old Emily and 10-year-old Matthew — said her kids “miss gym” and that it is too cold to effectively exercise outside in the schoolyard.

According to Margie Feinberg, spokesperson for the Department of Education (DOE), the school has instituted extended recess time and adopted indoor exercise programs, such as Move to Improve and Activity Works, to compensate for the unavailability of the gym.

Assistant Principal Peggy Mouzakitis says the kids love the in-class programs, which combine for roughly 30 to 40 minutes of exercise, and called them a “good workout for their age.”

According to published reports, parents are claiming their children’s physical education has consisted of jumping jacks in the classrooms and movie screenings in the auditorium since the gym’s closure.

P.S. 234’s principal, Thea Pallos, assures the children are not watching films in lieu of gym, and believes Activity Works, a scientifically designed, interactive video program which aims to improve activity levels and healthy eating habits in young children, may be what the students are misidentifying as “movies.”

“The most important thing to us is that the kids are stimulated in every way,” said Pallos, who admitted physical education at the school has been more difficult without a gym. “Students and parents have been frustrated, because some children leave the building and can’t play outdoors after school. So we want to make sure we can give them those opportunities at school. There have been challenges and we are certainly trying to meet them.”

Among the challenges highlighted by Pallos was the sharing of their schoolyard, where physical education classes have sometimes been held this semester, with I.S. 235, a neighboring middle school which also utilized the out-of-order gymnasium.

Senator Michael Gianaris says Pallos and parents have contacted his office to request he get involved in facilitating the fixing of the flooded floor.

“We have a number of parents very concerned that this problem has dragged on for way too long and their kids are without the physical education they need,” said the senator. “There is no excuse for the mismanagement of this situation. At a time when kids are supposed to be getting physical education, they are busy doing activities during which they are stagnant and not moving. Due to high child obesity, we have to make sure our children are getting the exercise they need. On this issue, the DOE has failed miserably.”

According to a DOE spokesperson, the School Construction Authority (CSA) will install a temporary floor while the students are off for winter break. The floor will be in position for the start of the second semester, and a permanent floor will be put in place during the spring, after exterior drainage work is performed.