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Residents unsure about location of proposed middle school, some want historic–yet dilapidated–building preserved

Sunnyside Community Garage

Sunnyside Community Garage

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.

Former garage (proposed school site)

Former garage (proposed school site)

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 sites@nycsca.org

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.

Building today

Building today

email the author: news@queenspost.com

59 Comments

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Owner of Building

I am a Sunnyside resident and my family owns the property in question. I have lived in Sunnyside for awhile now and have kids of my own.
The reason the building has been empty for so long is because it is so important to me and my family that we find the proper tenant for the building that would benefit the community in some way.
We rejected multiple offers and to give you an example of petty gossiping. A drug rehab facility made us several large offers to sell, but we rejected all of them because we did not want that in this community.
My family is a middle class family. We own this property because my father used to have a business in it.
Currently, with the building empty and no tenants, the cost of taxes and yearly maintenance has been coming out or my retired parents savings. Approximately $150,000 a year has to be spent to maintain this empty building.
When we were approached by the school, we weighed the impact it would have on the community and we determined that we couldn’t find a better tenant then the SCA and a middle school would benefit the community.
There are a few fundamentals that my family has to deal with, we can’t afford to keep a 50k foot empty building and we would have to part with it, wether we liked it or not out of pure necessity.
We thought a school would sit well with the neighborhood.
Another fact that others have brought up is that the longer we would wait to sell or rent, the less picky we can be with whom we sell to and the more it becomes a crap shoot of what really happens with this corner.
If the neighborhood really wants to save this property, then support our yearly taxes and expenses, help paint the graffiti that happens regularly and help deal with the illegal dumping of garbage and the money it takes to get rid of other people’s trash and perhaps even help shovel our sidewalks during the winter.
We have had no offers of help from anyone, if anything I’ve seen people comment that we’re some “greedy landlords who probably live far away from here”.
I love this neighborhood as much as everyone else and have been doing everything within my power to make a positive impact on this neighborhood.
I once had a dream of making it art studios, a community center and would still do it. Is there anyone out there with a good 5-7 million to give us to help get these things started? Who wants to help by giving their time and money to help save this building and make it your dream for the neighborhood?
In the years I have been dealing with this building, I’ve had no offers of help in any way, except from the local Boy Scouts planting a garden, but beyond that, I’ve watched locals leave their bags from shopping on northern, their coffee cups, I’ve even been sued for a slip and fall. I’ve seen everything except real help and involvement.
Some people have an open mind and a good perspective and understand there are only so many options and the school is actually a really good option. If someone has a real idea, with real backing and a real plan, we would listen to it in a second. Otherwise I hear a lot of Nimby talk and no talk grounded in the reality of who has to own and maintain this building. Honestly, I’m exhausted by the whole thing and can’t wait until it doesn’t consume my entire family 365 days a year, but I am not holding my breath that anyone will help us in any real way.

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MICHAEL

HOW CAN YOU FIT ALL THOSE SCHOOLS INTO A 600 SEAT BUILDING, IF EACH GRAMMAR SCHOOL GRADUATES ABOUT 200 STUDENTS EACH YEAR, THE BUILDING FILLED UP IN YEAR ONE WITH 6TH GRADERS.
THIS MAKES NO SENSE TO ME! ONCE AGAIN SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION HAS NO CLUE!

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Casey

The Sports Authority location is a great idea and it could be done easier than the Barnett location.

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Anonymous

Sports authority makes a ton of sense. More central to all the schools in Woodside, with multiple access points and transportation options.

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Michael

The Sports Authority site, with an entrance on 54 street is the best idea, There is a large space for a school yard and can be larger building with the growing neighborhood , It is also more convenient for the families from PS 11, PS 361 and PS 152. It is in the center of those schools; family homes It is just blocks away! Also, the subway and buses are right there on the corner for staff and students!

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Really?

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.”

That’s great, Deborah, you have been looking for years and years…but many of us have actually been LIVING in Sunnyside Gardens for years and years and dont want the school built here because it just doesnt fit the neighborhood dynamic.

I’d like to know how many people who ACTUALLY LIVE IN SUNNYSIDE GARDENS around 48th and Barnett are on these various boards pushing for a school to be built in this area. I would venture to guess it is a very limited number, if any.

I have kids and education is obviously extremely important, but let’s find another location to build a state of the art school to help our kids.

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Deborah

Clearly, education is not “extremely important” if the “neighborhood dynamic” does not include a school your children can walk to instead of crossing district lines and treacherous major thoroughfares…..and the obstacles are, largely, aesthetics. I live a block from my zoned school (although my children do go to school in Sunnyside) and don’t like the traffic and double-parking and complications that go along with living near a school….I would also not love it if a retirement complex was being built nearby with Access-a-Rides constantly in my way. Would I actively try to block a common good because of a minor annoyance to myself? How, as I said, is that COMMUNITY?

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Really?

Exactly. You don’t live here. Enough said.

Always fine to put a building in someone else’s backyard and not deal with the daily consequences.

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Better Solution

Sports Authority Site….right around the corner yet none of the issues presented by the Barnett location.

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I agree

This location would be better. It is also right next to public transportation. You would be surprised how many older public school kids show up an hour or two late to school everyday. Making the school easy to get to is important.

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Anonymous

Northern Blvd location is terrible because this school is primarily for the north Sunnyside zoned area. It’s your school. Youre sending 700 or 800 students over to IS125 now. They’ll be going to this school instead. They aren’t going to take the 7 to the R to get to sports authority. Theyre just going to walk to it on 48 st. Sports Authority is on the very edge of the zone if it’s in it at all. If you want your 40 or so childless single family homes to be a retirement village, you need to tear down all the rental and coop buildings in North Sunnyside. As it is, a single building has more voters than all of the Gardens, and those buildings have kids.

It’s also terrible because traffic is horrendous there. There aren’t many if any middle schools in the entire city that are in a similar location as Sports Authority. Schools are in residential areas because they serve the residents of those areas.

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spaz spaz spaz

at that intersection?? stupid idea, no one wants kids to get mowed down having to navigate cars coming from 6 directions.

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Anonymous

Oh please. Make the school accessible only from the street behind the property at the sports authority location. There are so many more realistic options to direct cars and children away from northern Blvd. that’s not as easy at the Barnett location.

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mythoughts

Barnett Ave is a better location. The traffic on Northern Blvd is dangerous and kids from Sunnyside would have to walk through those desolate and abandoned industrial blocks to get there. Kids that go to their neighborhood school are supposed to be able to walk down the block to get there, not take a subway.

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Neighbor

I would bet money that kids from the immediate neighborhood would not go to this school anyway. My observation is that most Sunnyside Gardens parents send their kids to Growing Up Green in Astoria or Academy of the city in across Northern. PS 150 is to Hispanic for them and PS 11 is too Bangladeshi. They would not be able to ensure segregation in a regular school like charter school seem to.

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Thuth

So true. But the joke is on them because charters suck. They are stocked with young inexperienced teachers who usually leave in three years or less. They either get a job at a real school or go into another industry where they can make better money.

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I miss the south side

It’s so intellectually lazy to anonymously accuse people of racism rather than engage in actual discourse.

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One reason why the parents chose the charter schools

Many of the parents I know who are sending their kids to charter school are doing it because the charter schools offered k to 8th grade. They were worried that there would be no middle school option. If the school goes up my guess is that we will see a drop in local parents putting their kids on busses a full 45 minutes earlier each day to get them to school. Then the kids show up at home an hour later than the kids who go to the local elementary schools. And those are the kids who will attend this school.

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Charter School

Not true. The Growing Up Green Middle school is located next to the Queensbridge House. I have had multiple conversations with parents who don’t want to send their kids there. For some reason… the location of the project next to the school always comes up.

JustPaula

You raise an interesting point that literally hits close to my home. We have a Catholic School on one corner and a brand new public school on the other corner. The Catholic school has been Troublesome to me for years because most of the students are not from the immediate area so our street gets clogged with cars double parking, blocking driveways, even blocking the sidewalks because that is where parents must wait at departure. However most of the people coming to the public school are coming on foot, wait in the yard at departure, and it has not been an issue in any way to the people living on this block.

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MICHAEL

PS 361 should have been a middle school! Once again school construction authority is clueless.

Anonymous

So….many of these assertions are just incorrect. The proposed school is a MIDDLE school. PS 150 and PS 11 are elementary schools. Parents will send their children to this school because they currently do not have a zoned middle school and are forced to attend a District 24 school or cross Northern Blvd. to get to a middle school in Astoria. And, FYI, only a fraction of students go to either charter school mentioned, as they are selected by lottery.

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JustPaula

MICHAEL – The reason the SCA built 361 as an elementary school is because PS 11 was beyond overcrowded. My niece, who lives upstairs from me started Kindergarten a year before my son, the year before 361 opened. Except she didn’t even get to spend her first year of public school around the corner at 11. She was bussed to 171 near the Queensbridge Houses every day for a year because there was no room at 11. Fortunately by the time my son entered Kindergarten last year, 361 was open. The fact that they had to build a second elementary school only three blocks away from the existing one makes it pretty clear that the area also needs a dedicated middle school. I don’t understand why people can’t realize that if you have three elementary schools, you are definitely going to need at least one middle school – which we don’t have.

Lives Close Enough To Have An Opinion

The Northern Blvd location has a different set of issues. For those that want the school to be built at the old Sports Authority lot. I have two words.
1. Zoning and 2. Ownership.
The lot on Northern Blvd is probably zoned for commercial business only (there are reasons for that), and the owner probably wants to lease the property to insure a steady revenue stream instead of selling outright at a reduced price. Besides, the NYC School Construction Authority probably doesn’t have the money to compete with business, and schools don’t pay rent. Whoever owns the building on Barnett Ave. probably has different business interests.

You might be able to get zoning restrictions waved, but it will still present a host of issues that translate to dollars and affect the overall budget. New access roads would alter traffic patterns affecting commercial traffic, and the cost of moving dirt and laying asphalt and concrete – which ain’t cheap – increases the budget for the Northern Ave Location. For all you know, the someone has their eyes on that lot for LIRR infrastructure or maybe just another big box retailer. Which brings jobs and affordable crap made in china.

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Anonymous

The sports authority lot is where DeBlasio should build one of his mixed income towers. The R and M trains are actually underutilized as is Northern Blvd station. The school should be on 48 st.

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Bart Stone

So absurd that people want to block this to “save” this terrible old building that has zero character and no historical value. The real reason is people don’t want kids walking past their house from the subway and a fear of “tough” middle school kids. Think about it, if they build a quality school there is will increase property values. So much NIMBY in this area its absurd. We need a school. It has to be building somewhere.

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Mac

-Bart stone Just like the trouble free “quality” middle school at 47th Street and 47th Avenue. This school will be exactly like that one with the very same problems run by the very same people.

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JustPaula

They just built one on my corner. We already had a Catholic school on the other corner. Nothing annoying about education.

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Anonymous

I agree. If the neighborhood needed parking back when the building was new how much more do we need it today? Loads of people didn’t own cars then and families have two or more now. Use is as it was designed to be used. We have enough millionaires around here to pay heavy fees. We poverty stricken and scorned renters can fill the streets.

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Josh B Gosh

This is just the wrong location for a host of reasons:

1) Adds to existing car traffic problem
2) Clearly goes against the integrity of the residential focus of the Gardens
3) Will create an immense amount of foot traffic right through the heart of the Gardens areas
4) The likely structure will be completely out of character with the neighborhood

I can’t imagine any person can truly be anti-school, but this location just has too many downsides. Let’s find another location that can accomodate the school and does not destroy the fabric of Sunnyside Gardens that was established nearly 100 years ago.

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mythoughts

Schools are usually located in residential areas so this is not a conflict; the whole point is for the children who live in the neighborhood to be able to walk to school. For this reason, a residential area is exactly where a school should be, not some high traffic industrial strip like Northern Blvd. Good schools are part of the character of good residential neighborhoods where families want to live.

Again the children who will walk to the school, creating the foot traffic you mention, live in the neighborhood, so they are currently either walking through the neighborhood to a different school, located farther away, or being driven to said school, thereby increasing traffic in the neighborhood. My guess is that the foot traffic will be less than you fear.

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jack

NOOOOO, they will be walking , dropping off, horn blowing.. school busses.. bewildered parent slow down. It will be right on the corner where there is already noise beyond belief for LIRR construction, 48 street traffic. No parking for Sunnyside towers.. we have already been jipped by the “crossfit cronnies” And being bussed in from all other areas??? kill me now.

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Anonymous

FYI, no children will be bussed in from “all other areas”. This will be a zoned school for the children of Sunnyside and Woodside. Additionally, no school busses are provided after 6th grade for any children.

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Anonymous

A fair amount of this statement is not true. The school is not zoned to Sunnyside and woodside and the demographic further supports this won’t be the case. 6th graders are bussed. There are a host of issues you are not considering.

School location = bad

How can you say that 600 extra kids PLUS parents, caretakers, buses and cars flowing down the 48th street and the surrounding area will not create substantial negative impact on those that live in the neighborhood???

The neighborhood is not constructed to absorb this level of activity down our streets and alleys…..

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School location = bad

FALSE. The article talks about kids from other areas going to the school so it will 100% increase foot traffic in the area.

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Anonymous

The article is incorrect. This will be a ZONED school for neighborhood children who currently walk across either Queens Blvd. or Northern Blvd. to get to school. A child was was killed crossing Northern 2 years ago. I call that a negative impact on those who live in the neighborhood.

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John Little

Your point #2 is absolutely wrong. A school located in, not just nearby, a neighborhood strengthens its integrity and vitality.

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Lives Close Enough To Have An Opinion

1. I’m sure feasibility studies/ computer models, etc were done to understand what the traffic impact would be on the neighborhood. They probably have more master planning knowledge than what is available to the general public. Or at least what the concept is. We simply don’t know if there is a transportation plan that will alleviate perceived congestion. They are also probably willing to compromise and accept some degree of collateral damage (more screaming kids walking down your block to the subway or bus) if it has a bigger impact on the greater good. I know that doesn’t concern you. Are you a traffic and urban planning expert?
2. The integrity of residential neighborhoods includes those things that make communities, communities. Grocery stores, laundry mats, banks, etc. Schools are one of them. If they want to introduce light metal manufacturing, then I might agree.
3. The foot traffic will be to and from transportation hubs and eateries. I’d venture a guess and say other streets won’t be affected at all.
4 How would you know what the structure will look like? You are making a judgement on an unknown, so your #4 observation is worthless. They haven’t released or made public any renderings or design details.

The downsides you highlight aren’t really downsides that you can confirm or identify accurately. Sometimes you have to take the good with the bad, even if it’s not as bad as you think. And to quote Mick Jagger, “you can’t always get what you want.”

I don’t have a dog in this fight as I live about four blocks from the proposed location. It won’t really affect me unless I want to walk around the area when classes are over and it’s filled with a bunch of screaming middle schoolers. Not too likely as I only walk that stretch of 48th street to go to Home Depot – which is about twice a year – and on weekends. I’d have to see the proposed solution in detail to really make a decision – pro or con.

Sunnyside doesn’t like change, and those in the gardens prefer to live in a time warp. An influx of what was 800 students, now 600, would upset the status quo, and that’s why people are complaining.

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Anonymous

Your arguments don’t hold water at all. Plus you have a pre-existing negative opinion about the gardens. People wiser than you voted to preserve it. So it should be preserved.

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School location = bad

To the comment above- you are right- a newly built high-rise school absolutely upsets the status quo of SG as a quiet, below the radar, pleasant place to live…That is while many people are opposed.

600 students and potentially a high rise school is the anthesis of the existing attributes of the neigborhood.

Your examples of grocery stores, laundromats and restaurants making up the integrity of the neighborhood is true because establishments of that type are essential and have been part neighborhood and have been for generations (albeit under different ownership)….a school in this area is not part of the history so you are comparing apples and oranges.

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Anonymous

If the school isn’t built, the privately owned land *will* be sold to someone…potentially more “disruptive” to the neighborhood and with zero community value. Are you willing to roll the dice?

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JustPaula

I was upset when I first heard that the SCA was building PS 361 on my corner. I can tell you that there has been no appreciable difference in vehicle traffic, or parking. The brand new school is what kept us from leaving Woodside with our six year old and we are happy. I think it is a shame that there is no middle school dedicated to Woodside/Sunnyside and if this one goes up, we may stay here even longer. I presume it would attract new buyers to the area too. Putting a school in a retail location, one with terrible traffic flow is just scary if you actually have children. I get it. Some people don’t like change…. even positive, progressive change.

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JustPaula

And let’s face it. The building currently in that location is visually nowhere near the original one. I support preservation but the ship sailed on that corner a long time ago.

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Anonymous

You are exactly right! No way would I send my kids to a *different district* to go to middle school….I’d vote with my dollars and move. Although it sounds like that would be just fine with the current Sunnyside residents who’d rather not deal with those “pesky kids” at all.

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Anonymous

So, to be clear, this is the wrong location for the residents who are concerned with traffic and architecture. Because this is the exact right location for the children.

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Anonymous

Really? How is that the case? I have children that could benefit form a local school. I also am a homeowner on 48th st. I would much rather see the building be repurposed in a historically significant way than have unsupervised middle schoolers in my backyard. As others have mentioned, just because the school is in the neighborhood does not change who it is run by nor does it change the quality of the education. This will not be just a school for local kids. I don’t see people flocking to 47th to send their kids to that school. Maybe I am resistant to change however I think it’s incredibly selfish for people to want this location out of their convenience. If this were a small private school I would think differently.

For those of you that don’t believe in the historic argument…that’s incredibly stupid. Facades can be restored as have many of the houses in the neighborhood.

Find another location for the school.

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rikki

sunnyside NEEDS parking now that DEBOZIO has taken away lots of them by extending the curbs..

make it monthly only so there is very little street traffic, and make the top floor the school,

or build a new building with 2 or 3 levels of underground parking….and a separate entrance/exit

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Anonymous

Carol Tarrano My guess is no one was aware the building was rotting away. I remember the building being used by fleets of taxis and black cars as their garage and mechanic shop which suited its design. Then it was a pool hall and a gym. Why those businesses failed is a mystery to me but I never heard the building was falling apart. It seemed clear it has been held empty because it was cynically left out of the historic district just as all the buildings on Barnett Avenue were. Someone wanted to cash in on the real estate value not serve the needs of the neighborhood. To say that a strip of land up against the tracks and that big building are not in Sunnyside Gardens defies all logic except financial logic. Building more than two stories there will effectively change the character of the neighborhood because all those people using those buildings will increase traffic far beyond what the neighborhood was designed to hold. Most of my life a lot on 37th Avenue and 48th St. that stretches about halfway to 43rd St. was just a grassy field with big equipment in it on occasion. The word was the city owned the land and kept it empty for emergency use. Now I see cars and vans parked there at times. Did the city sell it to someone for that purpose or is it still publicly owned. A school there would tend to keep traffic on a street with more access and egress to other, less residential streets.

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West Village Grammy

Children’s education should be more important than a dilapidated old building. Get real…

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Systematic Doctrine

Children’s education is so important that gov’t should get its hands off of it!

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I miss the south side

Yes. And let morons like you teach them that the world is 5000 years old. No thanks.

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