Jan. 5, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
Designs for Sunnyside’s newest middle school have at last been revealed, with construction expected to start next year on a project long in the works and which saw some controversy along the way.
The School Construction Authority, the city agency that builds schools, presented plans for the upcoming building at 38-04 48th St. during Thursday’s Community Board 2 meeting, noting that while parts of the school are still being worked on, the overwhelmingly majority of the design is complete.
The middle school will rise to five stories and seat 720 students from grades five to eight in a building spanning more than 76,000 square feet.
The school will have typical fixtures including a cafeteria, a “gymnatorium” and some outdoor play space along 48th Street, with its design coming after months of talks with community stakeholders, many of whom raised concerns over demolishing the existing building at the site to make way for the project.
The vacant two-story building at the lot today, once home to several businesses, was built in 1927 and is historically known as the Sunnyside Community Garage.
The building is listed with the State Historic Preservation Office, but has changed significantly over the decades and bears practically no resemblance to the original garage, whose architect, Clarence Stein, was the mastermind behind Sunnyside Gardens. The building, moreover, is not included in the Sunnyside Gardens Historic District.
Still, many in the community sought to have the building preserved and restored if it were to become a school, and strongly objected to the SCA’s plans to demolish the building.
But the SCA has maintained that the building has to be demolished given its condition and other issues that made saving it unfeasible.
“We looked at that seriously and we found that that was just not possible,” said Michael Mirisola, SCA director of external affairs, adding, “Saving the building would not satisfy the needs that a school would require.”
The state historic preservation office agreed with the SCA’s determination, but mandated that the new building’s design include elements of the original building in its brick coloring, facade fixtures and other areas.
The school’s design would additionally be worked out with input from a community advisory group, which met with the SCA four times since May.
As a result, the new middle school building’s design calls for a lower half with features that harken back to the original structure, with an upper portion reflecting a more contemporary look.
The first two stories, for example, will incorporate a dark-colored brick and design resembling what was on the building in its prime, with the remaining upper floors to use brick of a lighter color.
The windows at the bottom two floors will also replicate features of the old building, with metal paneling to hold the window panes.
While the building will go to five stories at most, it will have varying levels, with the bulk of the building to go toward Barnett Avenue—away from the low-rise homes at 39th Avenue.
To further separate the low-rise homes from the school, the existing wall between the two will be kept up, with a new wall to be built directly behind it and “tied” to the old wall for reinforcement.
Another element to the school building is a small tower on 48th Street, built to resemble the structure that was once part of the old garage before it was destroyed in a fire decades ago.
The tower will act as a outdoor storage room for the school’s maintenance staff.
“We typically don’t do this in a school because this is expensive to do,” said John Dias, an architect with the SCA, on the level of historic detail being incorporated into the building. “But we want to try to match the existing building as close as possible.”
Figuring out a design that worked with the building’s history and blends with the neighborhood, the SCA said, added a year to the project timeline, and comes more than two years after plans for the school were first announced.
Work on bringing about the new school is expected to begin some time in the middle of next year. Work on the south wall will be done first before the rest of the building is demolished, and is anticipated to start in the spring of 2020. Demolition and construction will then likely take place in the summer of that year.
The school building is anticipated to open in 2022.