PARK SLOPE — A city plan to build a pre-K center on Ninth Street met fierce opposition from history buffs Tuesday who said the site should be made into a memorial park for America's first heroes.
Officials with the School Construction Authority presented their plans for a 180-seat pre-K center at 201 Ninth St., between Third and Fourth avenues, at a public hearing hosted by the Community Board 6 youth and education committee.
The property SCA wants to build on is an empty lot next to the Michael A. Rawley, Jr. American Legion post. To Revolutionary War scholars, the parcel is better known as the possible burial ground for the Maryland 400, the soldiers who clashed with British forces during the pivotal Battle of Brooklyn. Most of the Maryland 400 died in the skirmish, and their sacrifice is widely regarded as a crucial step toward America's eventual victory.
Fast forward 239 years, and the city is waging its own battle finding scarce space to educate swelling ranks of children in District 15, a job that's grown more difficult with the introduction of the city's free universal pre-K program.
"I must compliment you on the hard work of finding sites for a growing school population, but that being said, you have picked the absolute worst site in the neighborhood for that proposed school,” said Eymund Diegel, a local historian and parent.
"Clearly the SCA was asleep during their history lesson," Diegel added. "That site we're talking about is the very first cemetery for American soldiers. … Without this site, there would be no America."
Others including Holly Fuchs of the Society of Old Brooklynites and historian Bob Furman, a longtime advocate for building a memorial at the site, spoke passionately about the property's possible historical value.
However, SCA officials and others said previous studies of the site showed no evidence of bodies buried below the surface. Diegel and others contended that past studies weren't comprehensive enough, and only a thorough archeological dig will settle the debate.
Luckily for the history buffs, that deep archeological study is more likely to happen if SCA moves forward with its plan, said SCA Director of External Affairs Fred Maley.
Unlike a private developer, SCA must comply with the State Historic Preservation Office, which oversees the construction of all new schools and will order archeological studies if they're deemed necessary, Maley said.
“If they tell us we have to do a dig, we do that dig and we do it professionally,” Maley said, adding that archeological digs at a new school in Staten Island uncovered 15,000 Native American artifacts that are now on display at the school. "Maybe with [this] school, future generations of children will learn about the Maryland 400."
History wasn't the only issue at Tuesday night's hearing. Neighbors of the proposed pre-K center wanted to know whether the entrance would be on Ninth Street or Eighth Street, and worried that the center could eat up scarce parking.
Others questioned the logic behind putting a pre-K center right next door to the American Legion post's bar.
Some parents quizzed SCA officials on their priorities, pointing out that some pre-K centers in Sunset Park are under-enrolled, while elementary schools there are bursting at the seams.
One frustrated dad said it seemed as if the SCA had no plan to address overcrowding in District 15, especially in Sunset Park.
The CB6 youth and education committee approved the SCA's proposal on the condition that SCA share findings from any archeological work done on the property, retain a consultant to examine impacts on traffic, include public art at the center, and convene a local group to monitor construction impacts.
The City Council must approve the SCA's proposal, and officials said Tuesday night that the earliest the pre-K center would be ready for occupancy would be fall 2018.