Bay Ridge

Hearing on proposed high school for Bay Ridge turns contentious

Explainer: Full analysis of current Bay Ridge high school options

May 10, 2023 Helen Klein
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BAY RIDGE – Concerns about traffic dominated a public hearing about a new high school proposed for Bay Ridge.

The hearing was hosted by Community Board 10, in whose catchment area the new school would lie, on Thursday, May 4, at P.S./I.S. 30, at Ovington and Fourth Avenues.

The 45-day comment period began on April 19 and will end on June 6. Comments can be sent to [email protected] or to New York City School Construction Authority, 30-30 Thomson Avenue, Long Island City, NY 11101, Attention: Kelly Murphy, Director Real Estate Services.

The school, which the city wants to construct on two lots currently owned by the shuttered St. Nicholas Home, at 441-447 and 425-439 Ovington Avenue, would have approximately 676 seats, with room for special education students included in that total, according to the proposal released by the School Construction Authority. The total area of the site is 35,470 square feet, making it “the biggest site we’ve been able to look at for a long time [in the area] for a new high school,” according to Steve Gonzalez, a project support officer for SCA.

The area has a critical need for a new high school, contended Gonzalez. The site, he told the crowd, “is the first site for a new high school in District 20 in decades.” Both high schools in the area, he stressed, are heavily utilized, as are the other two high schools within the boundaries of District 20.

Within Bay Ridge, Fort Hamilton High School, said Gonzalez, is currently at 155 percent of capacity and the High School of Telecommunications Arts and Technology is at 96 percent of capacity. Nearby New Utrecht High School is at 143 percent of capacity and Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School is at 118 percent of capacity. The purpose of the new high school would be “to alleviate the overpopulation of the high schools in the district,” said Gonzalez, who told attendees that area residents as well as members of the District 20 Community Education Council had “advocated for a high school.”

But, say people who live near the site, there are already three school buildings – two used by P.S./I.S. 30 (which, besides the main building where the hearing was held, has an annex on Ovington between Fourth and Fifth Avenues), as well as Lutheran Elementary School – within half a block of the site.

“As it is right now, the honking is deafening,” contended Antoinette Donnelly, who lives on the block. “Parents double-park, teachers take up our parking spaces, and the high school kids are just going to make it worse.”

“How many other schools has SCA sited on a 30-foot-wide, one-way residential street?” demanded Doris Cruz, chairperson of Community Board 10’s Zoning and Land Use Committee, who called it “a huge burden on the block.”

Cruz also questioned whether the school would be able to accommodate important extracurricular activities for students attending it, and when Gonzalez said that such questions would arise during the “design phase,” after the site selection was completed, Cruz rejoined, “I think those questions should have been asked before the site was chosen.”

Area resident Victoria Hofmo, who has lived near the site her entire life, wanted to know not only whether another high school was really needed, but whether it was needed specifically in Bay Ridge, and even more specifically in the area of the lower numbered streets.

“There’s an oversaturation of schools in this part of Bay Ridge in general,” she contended, stressing, “The traffic is already insane, and if you think students aren’t driven to school, you’re mistaken.”

Hofmo also wondered whether a school was “the best use of this site,” suggesting that “it makes more sense to reopen the site as senior housing,” which would effectively replace the senior home that had closed. “It would not disrupt the block,” she stressed.

Among the questions that board members and area residents had was whether the site would primarily accommodate students who live in Bay Ridge or whether its student body would include numerous students who commute from other areas, one of the reasons, they said, that local schools are currently jammed.

The schools in Bay Ridge are overcrowded, not because of the population here, but because we are serving the entire city,” said Hofmo.

And both a parent and a teacher from the P.S./I.S. 30 annex made the case that any school developed on the site should accommodate that school, which is currently situated in an apartment building and lacks many amenities.

Steve Stowe, the president of the District 20 CEC, acknowledged, “This is not the best location, but we are so short on high school seats.” Currently, Stowe said, the district is 3,600 seats short; a mandated reduction in class size, which will go into effect next year, will increase the shortage to a whopping 4,500 seats, he said. In addition, Stowe said, there’s a shortage of about 200 seats in District 20 for special ed students. “I know parents who travel an hour or more to get services for their children.”

Board member Teri Brennan, who also expressed concern about the availability of extra-curricular and enrichment activities at the school, enunciated the dilemma faced by communities in need of schools with limited site availability. “I fully understand we desperately need schools and for people saying, ‘Not there, not there, not there,’ I say, ‘Where? Where do you see sites that are not occupied?’ They have to be opportunistic about where space is available.”

But, board member Carmelo DiBartolo expressed the frustration that many in the neighborhood feel when projects are begun without sufficient community input. “We need this to be transparent,” he said. “We don’t trust bureaucracy.”

School District 20 includes Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, and portions of Sunset Park, Bensonhurst and Boro Park.

The St. Nicholas Home, which was located in the old Bay Ridge Hospital building, closed in September 2022, according to New York State Department of Health records.

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