Building With 144 New Pre-K Seats Unfinished Days Before School Starts

By Katie Honan on August 28, 2014 11:19am 

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 The annex at the Garden School on Northern Boulevard is still being built out.
UPK Site Offering Most Seats in District Still Under Construction
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JACKSON HEIGHTS — The school providing the most full-day pre-K seats in its district is still under construction as crews work "around the clock" with just days to go before opening, according to the headmaster.

A total of 144 students have registered to attend the new pre-K program at the private Garden School, which will inhabit a former Blockbuster Video on 79th Street and Northern Boulevard, according to the Department of Education.

It's the largest community-based provider of universal pre-K seats in District 30, which is the second-most overcrowded in the city. The next largest provider is All Children's Child Care in East Elmhurst, with 100.

The DOE is offering pre-K seats through its public schools, as well as at private institutions through its universal pre-K push.

With a week left before school's official start on Sept. 4, crews are still working at the site, building walls and dividing the large space to accommodate multiple classrooms.

"Construction has been working at the speed of light," said the school's headmaster, Richard Marotta.

The school began the process of building the UPK facility in the spring but was delayed because of lease negotiations, he said.

Eight teachers, eight assistants and one coordinator were hired for the annex, Marotta said.

The 144 available seats filled up fast, and there's a waitlist of 30 students, he said. The school also has 72 pre-K students at its main building up the street for a total of 216.

The expansion is part of Mayor Bill de Blasio's push to create 10,000 new pre-K seats in privately run early childhood centers this fall.

"The community needs [pre-K] desperately —  we're willing to do that and excited to do that," he said.

City agencies have begun to ramp up the push for universal pre-K, and earlier this month the Department of Health said the number of community-based early childhood centers with outstanding violations had dropped "dramatically" after more site visits.

“We have been working all summer to make sure every single classroom is ready for children," said Deputy Mayor Richard Buery.

The city provided funds to help city agencies implement its universal pre-K plan, including adding $1 million to the DOH's budget to increase the number of members in its early education and childcare control team.

The fire department created a new 20-member task force that works exclusively on pre-K inspections, and the Department of Design and Construction and the Department of Buildings increased their inspection staff to include more than 20 members.

DOE inspectors will take a walk through every pre-K site before school starts, according to the Department of Health. 

However, City Comptroller Scott Stringer said on Wednesday his office had received only 141 of more than 500 contracts for community-based universal pre-K providers, preventing an independent review.

Of those he had reviewed, he found "significant problems," he said.

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