Oct. 18, 2016 By Hannah Wulkan
Residents gathered to voice concerns over the proposed new middle school in Sunnyside last night.
The Community District Education Council 30 held a public hearing last night on the proposed 600-seat school, which would be located at 38-04 48th Street, the site of the historic Sunnyside Community Garage.
While most residents were in favor of a new school to help combat overcrowding, many took issue with the proposed location, which was designed by famed architect Clarence Stein in the 1920s, who created Sunnyside Gardens.
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer opened the meeting by explaining the necessity of the school, but also calling on the School Construction Authority to build a school that incorporates the history of the building, including possibly preserving part or all of the existing structure.
He added that he would like to see a school that is historically and architecturally consistent with the surrounding community.
“My record on this community, my familiarity with the community, and my love of it is unquestionable,” Van Bramer said. “I believe that building a new middle school is imperative for the future of our community. Now how we build it does matter.”
Van Bramer suggested creating a community advisory board to help guide the SCA throughout the design process.
Michael Mirisola, director of external affairs for the SCA, presented examples of other schools that he said the SCA built that blended in with a surrounding community, often preserving parts of the history of the site they were built on.
“We look forward to the challenge that the Council Member has put before us. In fact we don’t just look forward to it, we wholeheartedly accept everything that he has asked us to do,” Mirisola said. “I can fully commit to everything the Council Member asked us to do today.”
Mirisola made it clear that he was unsure whether the entire building would be saved, but promised the new school would stay true to the nature of the neighborhood.
He showed several slides of the dilapidated building today, featuring lots of graffiti and bearing little resemblance to old photographs of the original structure.
“I can guarantee you one thing, whatever happens in Sunnyside at that location, it will be more true to that original 1928 building than what we saw in the first slide,” Mirisola said.
He added that the SCA is in the public comments portion of the process, which will be open until November 4 and residents can send thoughts on the project to [email protected] until that time.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, many residents shared a single message: restore, don’t demolish, the standing building.
Sunnyside Gardens resident Herbert Reynolds brought photographs of the old building and spoke about the legacy of architect Clarence Stein.
“Stein’s building is an inseparable part of this planned community,” Reynolds said.
Most community members agreed that a school was necessary to the community, and many accepted the idea of a school at that site, provided the building was not destroyed.
However other speakers brought up issues of traffic and parking in the neighborhood, and questioned whether another location would be more appropriate, though Van Bramer said that it took many years to find this location, let alone another.
CDC 30 provided a list of four alternate locations that were considered.
One space considered was at 32-52 37th Street, the site of a Roman Catholic Church building. The SCA leased the building and it has been occupied by the Department of Education since last year, making it unavailable for the new school.
The second space considered was at 50-25 Barnett Avenue, which is owned by Phipps Houses and was planned for a highly controversial development of an affordable housing complex, though the plan has since been scrapped.
The third location considered was 39-34 43rd Street, which is the site of a 100,000 square foot warehouse building, which has since been fully leased and is not available to house a school.
The final location was at 69-01 34th Avenue, which is a lot that the SCA acquired in 2015 and plans are underway for a new primary school for the site.
Some community members spoke in strong favor of the school, including Deborah Alexander, the co-president of the Community Education Council.
“I am a strong believer that it is imperative that it be built,” Alexander said. She added that the SCA had been looking for a site for a new middle school for over 10 years, and this site was the best option.
“I may have been a little hasty to judge those who valued art and architecture over education,” Alexander said, but added that after hearing the discussion at the meeting, “I do think that we can have both.”
The Community Board 2 will be voting on the project site at their next meeting on November 3, where community members are invited to attend and share any thoughts on the proposed school site.