Sept. 20, 2016 By Hannah Wulkan
Local politicians and community members gathered yesterday to officially announce plans to build a middle school on the corner of 48th Street and Barnett Avenue.
The new school, which comes as a product of over two years of community activism, will be built on the site of a former pool hall and gym and will help address the ongoing issue of school overcrowding.
The proposed location, however, has raised some concerns about its impact on parking and traffic.
“I would say the overwhelming majority of people in the community understand the need exists, and appreciate how important it really is to build a middle school,” said Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer.
“We have to do what’s right by our children, and I think that good neighborhoods have good schools, and those attract young families who want to raise their kids, raise their families, and that’s what we’re doing here today.”
The school is still in the very early stages of development and is unlikely to open for several years, according to a spokesperson for the School Construction Authority.
The proposal has to go through the design stage, approval process and then the school itself must then be built after the existing pool hall is demolished.
Given the early nature of the project, it is difficult to say for sure how many children the school will serve. However, Van Bramer said that early estimates of 800 seats seemed a bit high.
Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan addressed the fact that the project raises issues of parking and traffic, saying “There is some anxiety about traffic and kids, but you know what, it’s going to be a beautiful thing for our community to have this wonderful school.”
Van Bramer stressed that putting a school in the location is the best possible outcome for the neighborhood.
The building, he said, “is a vacant eyesore,” and many residents were concerned about what business might replace it. “We’re going to replace it with a state of the art middle school.”
When asked if he was working on specific solutions to address community concerns about traffic and parking, Van Bramer said: “I think we understand that there are always some inconveniences that come with construction and we’re going to work with the School Construction Authority and the community to minimize those disruptions and work on any of the other issues that may arise.”
“This is just the beginning of the process, the community will be involved, and we’re going to try to address as many of the issues as possible, but it’s absolutely vital that we build the school,” Van Bramer said.
The new school came about at the urging of Sean and Deb McGowan, community activists who founded the Sunnyside-Woodside Middle School Project more than two years ago to push for the new middle school to be built in the community. The organization started a petition, formed a Facebook page and met with politicians to advocate for the new school, and finally saw it come to fruition.
“It’s a mind blowing experience just to be standing here,” said Deb McGowan, explaining that the beginning of the building process comes almost three years after they began fighting for it.
“What I love the most about this community is that the moms and dads don’t just fight for their own children, they fight for everyone else’s children as well,” Van Bramer said.