Poly Prep street closing proposal hits dead end

November 10, 2011 Denise Romano
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After irate residents expressed their fury at a proposal by Poly Prep Country Day School to fence off a section of Battery Avenue, eliminating parking on the block, representatives of the school withdrew the application in the middle of a heated Community Board 10 committee meeting.

Tempers flared at the jam-packed November 9 meeting. Quarters were so close that one woman fell ill, though she did not need medical attention. And, after about an hour of intense debate between community board members, Battery Avenue residents and Poly Prep officials over security issues and the way the application to the Department of Citywide Administrative Services had been filed, Assistant Headmaster Steven Andersen told the crowd he would withdraw the application.

We probably mis-stepped, Andersen acknowledged, adding that he will beef up security around the area with better lighting and cameras instead of erecting a fence. I know it’s difficult to live next to a school like ours. Hopefully, we can open up a debate with our great neighbors and move forward.

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Residents were overjoyed to hear the news.

We are very happy with the way it turned out, said Sheila Higginson, whose sons are third-generation Battery Avenue residents. We preserved our block’s history as a space where kids can play, If there is a problem, we are vigilant.

This is the safest block in all of Bay Ridge, said Elaine O’Rourke, who has lived on the block for 30 years. It’s the most beautiful block around. Our children are safe.

Joan McGregor has lived on Battery Avenue for 27 years and raised her daughter there. She said she was personally offended by statements made by Poly Prep officials regarding the amount of crime on the block. I live there 24 hours a day and see what goes on, she said. I thank you for taking down the idea of the fence, but I don’t believe that this is the last.

Vincent Rutuelo, manager of security at Poly Prep, had argued that the dead end block is a magnet for crime. We are a school and children are constantly back by that gate, he explained. Arrests are made for drugs and we can’t have our students only a few feet away. We are looking to make a buffer to get it away from not only the school but the rest of the community.

Residents and community officials say it’s not so – and were fuming over how their quiet block had been portrayed by the school.

Captain Richard DiBlasio, the commanding officer of the 68th Precinct, had told Councilmember Vincent Gentile as much before the meeting, Gentile said. He said it wasn’t a problem for the 68, Gentile said. There were four incidents over the course of the year. Three had to do with marijuana.

Gentile also blasted the way community relations were handled. The application was sent to State Senator Marty Golden’s office instead of Gentile’s although the issue had to do with a city rather than state matter.

They did not reach out to me or to the community board, Gentile said. Outreach and community relations are really lacking here. I don’t support taking of a public street to a private institution.

Andersen accepted responsibility for his actions and apologized to the community. He promised that the application was definitely moot.

At the end of the meeting, residents’ contact information was collected for future meetings between Poly Prep and the community. Community Board 10 Chairperson Joanne Seminara said the board’s office was always available as a meeting space.

This seems like the beginning of something beautiful, Seminara said.

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