Oct. 12, 2016 By Christian Murray
A public hearing is scheduled for next Monday that will permit residents to state their views on the city’s proposal to build a middle school on the corner of Barnett Avenue and 48th Street.
The announcement of the hearing comes just days after many residents attended Community Board 2’s monthly meeting to express their concerns about a proposed 600-seat school being sited at the 38-04 48th Street location.
The site is currently home to the former Sunnyside Community Garage that was designed in the 1920s by Clarence Stein, the famed architect who created Sunnyside Gardens, which many residents want preserved.
While the old parking garage is in a state of disrepair and has been altered several times since it was built, many residents want the School Construction Authority to assure them that it won’t be demolished.
Many want it to be incorporated as part of the school design, while a handful were prepared to abandon the concept of building a school at that location altogether. They suggested the SCA look at other sites such as the former Sports Authority location at 51-30 Northern Boulevard.
The old garage, which was part of the Sunnyside Gardens planned community, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. However, it was never included as part of the Sunnyside Gardens Historic District, which was landmarked.
The hearing on the school will be held at PS 361 at 39-07 57th Street at 6 pm, October 17 .
The SCA is in the midst of the public comment period on the proposed school and is giving people until November 4 to state their views on the location. Residents are able send comments to [email protected]
The SCA, however, is seeking the community’s feedback before purchasing the site for the school. Many residents at the Community Board meeting Thursday, while generally supportive of a school being located there, wanted to know the design and traffic implications before signing off on it.
Michael Mirisola, director of external affairs for the SCA, provided very little detail as to what the design would entail, other than saying it would cater to 600 students.
“No decision has been made whether we can preserve this building,” Mirisola said. He said that first it has to be determined whether it will be a site for a school. Once the SCA is given the go ahead, “we can then come back with our architects and come up with a plan and have some back and forth.”
Mirisola acknowledged that it is a historic building and noted that the SCA would have to consult with the NYS Historic Preservation Office before construction could go ahead.
But many community board members didn’t like the concept of giving the SCA its blessing on the school with so few design facts.
“We are being asked to simply approve a site and hope and pray that what goes up there is something we can live with,” said Stephen Cooper, a Community Board 2 member. “We don’t know what you are going to do, yet you just want us to give you carte blanche to do it.”
Sean McGowan, who founded the Sunnyside Woodside Middle School Project with his wife two years ago, said that he believes the school could be built with the façade of the building preserved. “It’s not uncommon these days for old buildings to be gutted and new buildings put in.”
McGowan said the school would be of great benefit to local children, with most being able to walk to school. “The school will be fed by children from PS 150, PS 11, PS 361 and some from PS 152.”
Deborah Alexander, co-president of the Community Education Council, said “community means looking after your neighbors. We have been looking for a site for years and years.”
Alexandra said it was vital that a middle school be built.
But some residents had mixed feelings.
Katie O’Sullivan, a Sunnyside Gardens resident who has a second-grader and third-grader who go to different schools due to school overcrowding, is caught in two minds. In one sense, she wants a middle school nearby but is also concerned about preserving the character of the Gardens.
“I’m extremely concerned about the aesthetics of the neighborhood,” O’Sullivan said. “I think it’s really important to come up with a very creative solution to preserve the building.”
But there were those who wanted the plan to put a school there to be scrapped altogether.
“I think the building should be preserved…left at its original scale,” said Laura Heim, a Sunnyside Gardens resident and architect. “If it’s a school, they [SCA] could build several stories and it would tower over the neighborhood.”
But Carol Terrano, a Community Board 2 member, said later in the meeting: “Where were all the people who were worked up about the architecture and design when the building was falling down and rotting away? That is kind of interesting to me.”
Community Board 2 did not to take a vote on the plan, deciding to table it until next month’s meeting on November 3. The board aims to gather more information about the proposed plans before taking a vote.