Sept 2, 2014 By Christian Murray
The new elementary school on 42nd Street in Sunnyside opens for the first time Thursday, which public officials and parents say was desperately needed to help combat school overcrowding.
The new school, PS 343, is a 5-story building with 430 seats for students from pre-K through 5th grade. It is located at 45-46 42nd Street (btwn Queens Blvd and 47th Avenue), which was once the home of the Sunnyside Jewish Center.
Construction started on the school in January 2013 after the School Construction Authority decided to purchase the lot at the end of 2010. Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who pointed out the site to the SCA, said at the time that while the lot is small the city has to take advantage of buying viable sites.
PS 343, which was initially called PS 313 until the name changed over summer, will cater to Pre-K, kindergarten and first grade students. The school will not be completely full with PS 343 students until the first grade students reach 5th grade.
However, for this year, many students from PS 199 will be utilizing the space, as they wait for St. Teresa’s classrooms to be revamped. Therefore, between students from PS 199 and PS 343, about 300 seats will be used.
Van Bramer said that the new seats will help alleviate school overcrowding. “I think we have more to do to end overcrowding but it is a terrific step forward,” he said. “We will have 430 students in a great school, with the resources they need.”
The school is 75,000 sqf. and features a clock tower, a play area on the roof and 20 classrooms. It also includes a full library, art room and science facilities. Furthermore, there is a gymnatorium, which combines the auditorium space with the gym.
The principal of the new school is Sunnyside resident Brooke Barr, who is a career educator, Van Bramer said.
The school has a red-brick exterior and blends in with the existing seven-story apartment building on one side and a row of low-rise brick homes on the other.
“Building a school is one of the most significant things we can do,” Van Bramer said.”We will not only be educating our children this year but for the next 100 years.”
The school cost the city $57 million. Furthermore, it cost the life of man who died during construction when he fell down an elevator shaft.
Students who would have ordinarily gone to PS 199 are likely to be the biggest beneficiaries of PS 343.
“We have 1,048 students in a building designed for 650 children,” said Anthony Inzerillo, the principal of PS199, last year at the groundbreaking. “We even use locker rooms as classrooms.”
Van Bramer said that he has done a great deal to help address the issue of school overcrowding in the 4 1/2 years he has been office. He said PS 343 is one of six school buildings that have been erected or are schedule to go up in the 26th council district since taking office. This, he said, equates to about 3,000 seats.
The School Construction Authority is in the midst of constructing an elementary school, PS 339, in Woodside (at 39th Avenue and 57th Street) that will cater to 470 students. It is scheduled to open in September 2015.
Meanwhile, an additional 350 seats will be added at PS 11 (54-25 Skillman Avenue) upon the completion of an annex, which is expected to be ready by Sept 2016.
Furthermore, a new building is being erected at IS 125 that will seat 600 students. That is expected to be completed by fall of 2016.
However, Van Bramer said he is looking for other school sites—particularly for a middle school in the Sunnyside/Woodside area.
He said that the School Construction Authority is currrently evaluating whether the proposed FDNY site at 39-34 43rd Street would be a viable location.