Nov. 4, 2016 By Hannah Wulkan
Community Board 2 voted overwhelmingly to approve a controversial new middle school in Sunnyside last night.
In a majority vote with only two members opposing, the Community Board approved the School Construction Authority’s proposal to build a 600-seat middle school at 38-04 48th Street, at the site of the historic Sunnyside Community Garage.
The proposal that the board approved however was lacking in design detail. The SCA did not provide any details as to how tall the new structure would be nor whether the historic building or its character would be preserved.
With so many unknowns, the Board’s approval came with five stipulations:
- The board is to part of the design process in an advisory capacity
- The school is to be zoned for District 30, particularly with preference for students living closest to school
- The SCA incorporate the historic building designed by architect Clarence Stein in to the new design
- The SCA build a school that is historically and architecturally consistent with the surrounding Sunnyside community.
- The request for proposal (RFP) include at least 50 percent of bids coming from firms that specialize in architectural preservation, and that all bids include in the plan an alternative for preservation of not just the façade, but also the entire building.
In a rare move, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer spoke before the vote and asked the Board to approve the project, speaking of its necessity to the community.
“I am calling on the School Construction Authority to build this school, to make sure we do the right thing for the children of this community. And I am also asking this Community Board to vote for the school,” he said, though he did note the concerns of the community should factor in to the design.
The concerns dealt mainly with the preservation of the existing building, the unknown size of the new school building and traffic congestion.
“Make no mistake. We get opportunities to build schools and to educate generations of children just so often, just so frequently. We have that moment here within our grasp, and I believe we should take this opportunity,” he added.
The last time Van Bramer asked that the Board to vote a particular way was when he spoke in favor of the Queens Boulevard redesign in June 2015.
Many community members also shared thoughts on the plan, with opinions ranging from strongly in favor to strongly against.
Sunnyside resident Meridith Maskara quoted Clarence Stein as saying, “The house itself is of minor importance. Its relation to the community is the thing that really counts.”
“We’re talking about a forgotten dilapidated old building that has been forgotten for years on a street that’s dark, without any surveillance, and our kids have to walk over Northern Boulevard to catch a bus to go an hour to their middle school. That’s what we’re trying to save here?” she said.
She also refuted several arguments she had heard, including that a school would bring in big business and kids hanging around would cause trouble. She said that the school would in fact foster local business, and that the children are already a part of the community.
“Please vote for the future of this community, don’t vote for the past. Think about those kids over there and what we need to do for them,” she pleaded.
Other community members also spoke in favor of the proposal, including several middle school students who said they wished the new middle school was built in time for them to attend in their own community.
However other members of the community maintained doubts about the project.
“My issues are that we have too many unanswered questions,” said Board member Stephen Cooper, explaining that despite his trust in Van Bramer he had trouble supporting the project.
“What I am being asked to do, and members of this committee are, is to vote on promises without information,” Cooper said, referring to how the SCA claims that it will try to preserve the history of the building yet provides no guarantees.
“The SCA has done a fine job in many places. They have also done a horrible job in some places. You heard some of the horror stories. As much as I don’t mean to oppose our councilman, I personally have to oppose this project because we have not gotten the information that we have been begging for since they first came to us with this project.”
Other speakers voiced concerns over construction disrupting the neighborhood, the unknown scale of the building and preserving the historic Stein building.
The final vote tallied at 34 in favor of the school and two opposed, with one abstention.
The public comment period on the location closes today, sending the project in to the next planning phase.
However, SCA representative Michael Mirisola said that there is still a long road ahead.
Once the project is fully approved, it still needs to be put out to bid, and the design process takes about a year and construction can take up to two years. Mirisola said that if everything is on schedule, the school could open in 2021.