At a Community Education Council 24 (CEC24) meeting last week, residents discussed ways to stop the homeless shelter and instead build a new school.
Maspeth resident Charlie Davruska, along with dozens more, lined up to voice their concern for overcrowding in the schools, neighborhood and public transit system once the families move into the neighborhood.
“I frankly think we have enough homeless shelters,” Davruska said. “If we keep building more homeless shelters, we will get more homeless.”
Nine-year-old P.S./I.S. 87 Middle Village student Joe Trapani said he was worried about the possible future for his school.
“It’s already crowded, so it’s hard for us to learn,” Trapani said. “If we build a homeless shelter it would just be harder, but if we build another school it will be easier because there would be less kids in my class.”
In response to the outcry, CEC24 president Nick Comaianni charged the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) with negligence for overlooking the district’s overcrowding issue.
“It’s very selfish to put a shelter with kids that you can’t house in a school,” Comaianni said. “Every school in our district is overcrowded, every school. So, where are you going to put these families? Where are you going to put their kids?”
He speculated that the overlap from transitioning new families to the community would intensify the overpopulation problem at local schools, as new children could potentially leave hundreds more displaced throughout the year.
“I think it’s irresponsible for the city to put any kind of homeless shelter in District 24,” he said. “Not because the homeless shelter is a bad thing – obviously it’s a bad thing that people are down on their luck and they’re homeless – but you have to be strategic where you put it.”
Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley once fought for a school at the site years ago, and after the recent EAS commissioned by the DHS found no extensive contamination at the former factory site, her focus has been put back on reviving her plans.
With neighboring companies like the Hansel and Gretel deli manufacturer and the Independent Chemical Corporation on their way out, the addition of the now-abandoned warehouse at 78-16 Cooper Ave. would theoretically create a vacant nine-acre lot for her vision to reduce the overcrowding dilemma.
“Many of us share similar feelings about why the Cooper Avenue or Pan Am wouldn’t be the most ideal spot to house families, but the main reason we are here today is we are fighting overcrowding in our schools,” Crowley said. “Year by year it is getting worse, and if you put 500 families into the school district, you are going to have well over 1,000 kids overburdening a system that is already overburdened.”
Crowley added that with available funding to build new schools, the next step is to find an appropriate site.
“This opportunity, especially on Cooper Avenue when you can have a nine-acre parcel of land, I don’t know where in Queens you can get that size,” she said. “And you know that Cooper Avenue is available because they are trying to get a lease from the DHS that has not gone through yet.”
Mary Leas, director of External Affairs at the School Construction Authority (SCA), said plans to build a school on the site were previously abandoned prior to the EAS, citing heavy traffic on Cooper Avenue and nearby chemical plant as factors.
Leas said it would be unlikely that the city would consider the location for a school unless it was substantial and all three properties could be acquired.
“There are a lot of variables that need to fall into place because we have three parcels of property, with two is questionable whether we can proceed,” Leas said. “There are a lot of ‘ifs’ that have to be worked out that are out of our control.”
She added that although eminent domain has been used in the past, a proposal that came up in the town hall, the process is arduous and one that might be unlikely in the case of 78-16 Cooper Ave.
“(Eminent domain) is more of a negotiating gain really, but that’s not what we have here,” she explained. “We have another government agency that’s already working with the owner.”