After word spread that the city was eyeing the property for a new school, civic leaders organized a rally at the old Whitestone Jewels site, drawing well over 100 angry residents last week in opposition to the School Construction Authority’s proposal.
Paul Vallone, Democratic nominee for the upcoming19th Council District election, led the charge and requested SCA look for a new site.
“We the people must be allowed a greater say in any and all development that is planned for our district, and that means more than an empty and hollow ‘comment period’ that goes largely ignored,” Vallone said. “Yet the School Construction Authority barges into our backyard with its unilateral site selection powers and without any real regard for the will of the community.”
Kim Cody, president of the Greater Whitestone Taxpayers Civic Association, was there while a SCA surveyor was on site. She was told the city was not looking into alternative locations for a school.
“They aren’t looking anywhere else,” Cody shouted to the crowd of protestors. “We must tell them to look throughout the whole area.”
Cody, a Whitestone resident, noted the poor public transportation as one reason why the location is not suitable for a school.
“They already took the Q14, now they give us the Q15 that runs half the time,” he said. “The traffic that is going to be coming over here, the parking that will be taken off the streets and the inconvenience that this is going to bring to the community is unacceptable.”
Debra Markell, president of the Waterside Estates Homeowners Association, agreed that the residential neighborhood is not ideal for a high school.
“While there is certainly a need for more schools in Queens, the Whitestone Jewels property is an inappropriate location,” Markell said. “It simply does not offer the infrastructure and transportation options necessary for the development of a new school.”
Laura Koutsavlis has lived in Whitestone for 11 years, and currently lives right around the corner from the proposed construction site.
“With the 4,000 students possibly going to high school here, the amount of commotion and traffic in and out of here is ridiculous,” Koutsavlis said. “With all of the beautiful homes that are here, to put a high school here is ridiculous.”
As dozens of parents in the neighborhood send their kids to private schools, she added that it would change the face of the community.
“We would be paying taxes to support the school, but our kids wouldn’t be coming here,” she said. “That’s very unfair, too.”
While she acknowledges the need for additional space for students, Koutsavlis and her neighbor Patricia Sweeny suggested Fort Totten as an alternative location.
“It’s away from everything, it’s a nice setting, and there’s already run-down buildings over there,” said Sweeny.