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City aims to build Sunset Park school across from bus depot

Pointing fingers: Concerned Sunset Parkers, including Belkis Sanchez, say the Jackie Gleason Bus Depot will pose a major hazard to students if a new grade school is built across the street.
Brooklyn Daily
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Parents want to knock the city “to the moon” over this school proposal.

The School Construction Authority aims to build an elementary school across the street from the Jackie Gleason Bus Depot in Sunset Park, said officials at a June 20 hearing at Community Board 7. But the transit hub clogs the area with traffic, is a magnet for accidents, and has spewed fumes that already sickened students in another nearby public school — so it’s no place to erect a school, no matter how dire the need for seats, say locals.

“Yes, I understand you need space, but do you build your school on the Love Canal when you have children who are developing?” said Elizabeth Shelton, who lives on 36th Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues. “There should be thought to safety.”

Officials plan to raze a two-story building where the Victory Outreach Brooklyn church operates and erect a 404-seat K–5th-grade school to help chip away at the more than 2,600-seat deficit in the borough’s School District 15.

But the site is directly across from one of the borough’s largest bus depots, with more than 300 buses zipping in and out of the terminal on any given day, according to a Metropolitan Transportation Authority depot worker who is not authorized to speak to the press and so asked to remain anonymous.

And in 2014, dozens of students and staff at PS 24, less than a block from the authority-run hub, were sickened by noxious fumes believed to have wafted from the Jackie Gleason Bus Depot.

Making matters worse, since 2010 there have been 27 accidents at the corner where officials plan to build the school, according to city data. Between 2009 and 2016, at least two people have been injured at the intersection every year and residents are doubtful that the safety record will suddenly improve.

”You know, for 30 years they never could control the traffic and trucks going down this block — never. They’ve had signs, we’ve complained to 311, 911, and accident after accident happens because of the buses and trucks,” said Fernando Loperena, another local who has lived on the street for 37 years. “It’s been a problem that has never been solved and now bringing a school there — you’re just creating more. I can’t see a school being built there.”

But it is slim pickings for space in the neighborhood — officials have even begun cold calling property owners looking for land for schools — and the city must make due with what is available, said an administrator with the Department of Education.

“We’ve been waiting a very long time to get seats in Sunset Park, and we’re eternally grateful for any opportunity to get any scrap of land we can find,” said Anita Skop, the superintendent for District 15. “Sunset Park has historically been an under-serviced area.”

Roughly 32,600 students are enrolled in the area, with 2,600 more than the collective number of school seats in the district, according to data from the Department of Education.

The school would be within three blocks of three public schools — two elementary and a high school — and rather than making it a zoned school Skop is leaning towards a district-wide lottery system.

“To be honest with you, I’m kind of thinking lottery,” said Skop. “Because at this point in time it is a zoning issue, because there are three schools in a relatively tight area. Goodness, we need the seats so badly in Sunset Park, but we need them all over the district as well.”

After reviewing community concerns, school officials will bring the proposal to the Council. If pols endorse the plan, the property will be purchased and a year-long design process will ensue, followed by up to three years of construction.

The school is expected to open its doors in 2021.

Locals have until July 27 to e-mail their concerns to the city at sites@nycsca.org.

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at cspivack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2523. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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