2010-05-26 / Features

Plans For New Schools At Hunters Point Scrutinized

BY THOMAS COGAN

A combined middle school and high school, to be built amidst the Hunters Point South residential project as it is also being built, was described by School Construction Authority (SCA) officials at a mid-May meeting at St. Mary’s Church in Long Island City. The officials found themselves before a critical audience that included City Councilmember James Van Bramer and recognized the need for the school but didn’t want to find itself with unacceptable aspects on its hands once construction had passed the limit of changeability. The SCA officials unveiled impressive illustrations, which did not escape criticism, and descriptions of the five-story, 145,000-square-foot, 26-classroom, 1,071-seat building, which is to go up at the corner of Center Boulevard and 51st Avenue. Among its amenities is a 4,000-square-foot deck with a view of the East River. Chris Persheff, a site selection manager for the SCA, was the principal speaker. When asked how far

building plans had gone, he said that construction documents were out to bid at present. The school, five floors high, is to be built before the residential towers, some of which are to be 30 stories high. The school would be closely adjacent to one of them. The middle school and the high school would have separate entrances, at Center Boulevard and 51st Avenue and 2nd Street and 51st Avenue. Middle school would run grades six through nine and high school 10 through 12, but Persheff could not say how many of the classrooms or seats would go to each, leaving the impression that it would be roughly half and half and that many of the classrooms would be shared. Asked how “green” it would be, he said the school is being built to Green Schools Guide standards, which he called stronger than Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, standards.

When Joseph Conley, chairman of Community Board 2, asked about educational schedules, Persheff said he dealt only with school construction and auxiliary matters, not teaching, curricula or personnel. He was asked about parking for the faculty and administration personnel and said that SCA was not building a lot. A woman in the audience questioned the wisdom of choosing not to build one, saying that everyone knows what an issue parking always is. Conley said that construction of Hunters Point South entails building a total of 2,000 parking spaces. Asked about a gymnasium, Persheff said there would be a large main one and a smaller auxiliary. Plans did not include a pool, however, which bothered one woman. She said that New York City is surrounded by water but has a high rate of drowning because so many young persons don’t know how to swim and need training in aquatic skills.

The school building itself drew some commentary and inquiry. Robert Wilkanowski, an architect and Community Board 2 member, said the colored illustration seemed to be a night scene but argued that the school’s dark walls would look industrially dismal even by day. Another man was more impressed, admiring the deck and the building’s size, but then expressed concerns that school expansion would lead to add-on floors that would ruin the building’s fine lines. He was assured that the original building would remain that way. The uses and the surface of the 4,000- square-foot deck were argued, leaving the impression that there is much more to be discussed about it.

Some attendees brought up hazardous situations that should be considered. Why, one asked, was a school site selected so close to railroad tracks? If the school is to be built in such proximity to the terminus of the Long Island Rail Road, it is imperative that students be thoroughly blocked from any access to the tracks, he insisted. He was told that kids get through holes in the fences next to the tracks anyway, which couldn’t have made the situation seem any better to him. Hearing that below-grade parking facilities are verboten in Hunters Point South because of the high water table, another man was concerned about possible seepage of pollutants into the school building and was assured his anxiety was groundless. One person asked if metal detectors would be set up at the entrances during construction and got the cheerless reply from Persheff that they would be installed “only after an incident”. A woman worried about sexual predators being lured not only by the prospect of a middle and high school but also a new K-8 school on 46th Avenue. Her concern moved her to ask if that 30-story tower beside the five-story school would be attached to it. She was told that persons on a sexual predators list would be checked should they try to establish residence in HPS or the other area residences.

The 650-seat, kindergarten-eighth grade school to be built on 46th Avenue was also a scheduled topic of the meeting, though it is unrelated to the middle/high school. Kenrick Ou of the SCA said its design is nearly complete but progress on the project is impeded by the lack of a signoff statement by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Conley said that the effect on P.S. 78, the grade school located in the City Lights tower, was unclear. If students were redirected to the 46th Avenue school, should it be built, the Board of Education would have a variety of options concerning P.S.78. Conley encouraged audience members to mail, FAX or email their comments and suggestions to Van Bramer’s and Assemblymember Catherine Nolan’s offices. Nolan, who was delayed in Albany, expressed her regrets at being unable to attend.

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