2011-05-18 / Front Page

Board 4, FDNY Say No To P.S. 351 Site

BY RICHARD GENTILVISO

A clash between the city School Construction Authority and the Fire Department has jeopardized the construction of a much-needed new school in Corona.
Community Board 4 unanimously voted against approving the location of  P.S. 315,  a 1,100- seat primary school (K – 5) at the corner or 97th Place and 43rd Avenue, due to concerns about safety at its May meeting.
During the public hearing, Battalion 46 Chief Vincent Mavaro said the FDNY strongly opposed construction of the school. “I understand the overcrowding. That’s not the issue,” Mavaro said. “We have a very, very busy firehouse at 43rd Avenue. [A school at 96-18 43rd Ave.] is not only ill advised, but quite dangerous. Statistics show most of our responses (3,000 last year at Engine 289 Ladder 138) occur during school hours. Response time is critical [and] every time we’re delayed, it endangers the community. We will be delayed,” he declared emphatically.
“With all due respects to FDNY, we both have our jobs to do,” SCA Site Selection Manager Chris Persheff responded. The proposed lot, including an occupied industrial building, is considered large at 55,000 square feet (1.26 acres). “[It’s] a very big site that’s going to help us relieve overcrowding,” Persheff noted. The main entrance to the school is proposed to be sited at 97th Place and 44th Avenue.
Persheff noted that nearby P.S. 19 is still using portable trailers for classroom space. “It’s about education, it’s about relieving overcrowding, it’s about getting kids out of trailers,” he said, adding more than 4,000 new seats are needed in District 24.
District 24 Community Education Council Vice President Peter Vercessi said that the need for space in Corona is urgent. “This might not be the best site [and] other sites have been identified and referred to [the] SCA,” he said. The SCA listed four alternate sites for the new school, all of which were ultimately determined unsuitable.
Asked about property abutting I.S. 61 at 98-50 50th Ave., Persheff said the owner has refused to sell.
“You want to [build] on 44th Avenue, where you can’t get a bus down the street,” Board Member James Lisa said. “Kids are going to get hurt over there.”
Persheff acknowledged he didn’t know whether or not there would be problems. “How can I say that 1,100 kids might not slow down the Fire Department?” he asked rhetorically.  Asked if the SCA would reconsider the location, he replied, “I can’t answer that. Right now, we’re here to listen.”
Persheff said the school has been funded and the property is in contract, but there is a need for community approval in order to close the deal. The cost of construction is estimated at $60 million to $70 million and the project is half way through the design phase. When completed, it will go out for bid during the next fiscal year after July 1.
Board Chairman Tony Moreno asked Lisa to meet soon with City Councilmember Julissa Ferreras, who supports the school plan, to discuss alternate sites.

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