May 8, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
The middle school slated to be built on Barnett Avenue will take yet another leap forward, as a newly-formed community advisory group will meet with city officials tonight for the first time to discuss the project.
The 30-person group, made up of community members and longtime advocates for a middle school at 38-04 48th St., will meet with the School Construction Authority at 6 pm tonight at P.S. 11. The event is limited to those in the committee.
The group’s members were appointed by Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, and include people like Community Board 2 Chairperson Denise Keehan-Smith and Debra McGowan, the co-founder of the Sunnyside Woodside Middle School Project. Some home owners adjacent to the upcoming school site are also part of the committee.
The formation of a local advisory group to have a say in the middle school’s design and construction was promised by Van Bramer in 2016, following Community Board 2’s vote to approve the middle school at the site after heated discussion from the community.
Van Bramer said in February that the advisory group will allow for “meaningful community input” during the process, and is meant to provide a variety of voices on the project.
McGowan, whose group campaigned for years in support of the middle school, says tonight’s meeting is a “huge, momentous step forward.”
While the meeting signifies a new point in the process, details on what will be discussed tonight remain sparse. The group’s influence on the school’s ultimate design and build out is also unclear.
Still, McGowan predicts that future talking points will center on how to make the middle school work for everyone, including preserving its historical elements, building a sustainable, green building, and the possibility of the community being able to use the building.
“I won’t be relaxed until the doors actually open at the [upcoming] middle school,” McGowan said.
The city’s last significant move toward the project came in January, when it purchased the site for $12.8 million.
The middle school is expected to seat nearly 700 students from grades six to eight in a four to five story building. The school’s design is still in the works, but may include a ground-level playground as well.
The School Construction Authority said in November that the vacant two-story building currently on the lot, built in 1927 as a garage and in use as a pool hall and gym in prior years, will have to be demolished to make way for the school, given its structural issues.
The SCA acknowledged the community’s concerns with preserving the building’s historical elements, and said they would work with the neighborhood to retain some of the original building’s design in the new building.
The community advisory group, however, is one component of the project.The community at large will be able to voice their opinions on the project during Community Board 2 meetings and other upcoming opportunities.
The project’s timeline is also in the works, but could be completed in 2021 if everything falls on schedule, the SCA said in 2016.
Van Bramer and the SCA did not respond to requests for comment on the meeting by press time.