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8 New Sunset Park School Sites Proposed to Relieve Overcrowding

By Nikhita Venugopal | December 18, 2015 3:49pm | Updated on December 20, 2015 7:40pm
 Photos from CEC District 15's selfie campaign earlier this year. Students, parents and teachers urged the city to do something about Sunset Park's overcrowded schools.
Photos from CEC District 15's selfie campaign earlier this year. Students, parents and teachers urged the city to do something about Sunset Park's overcrowded schools.
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Facebook/Community Education Council District 15

SUNSET PARK — Eight sites have emerged as potential locations for at least two new Sunset Park elementary schools to relieve the severe overcrowding in the neighborhood.

Three of the sites are along 39th Street, including a shuttered hotel where the FBI busted a prostitution ring.

"There's a lot of urgency,"  Councilman Carlos Menchaca said Thursday, a day after he toured the sites with representatives from the School Construction Authority, Community Board 7 and about a dozen parents.

Families have been relentlessly calling for new schools in the neighborhood and even launched a selfie campaign in January to highlight the issue.

P.S. 169, for example, had more than 1,600 students last year. P.S. 94 was so crowded that some zoned students had to be bused to schools in other parts of the district in South Slope and Gowanus, officials have said.

While the Department of Education has set aside funding for more than 1,000 seats in Sunset Park, it's the lack of viable space options that has posed a problem. 

Here are the potential sites that were reviewed this week (Story continues after the map):

A new K-to-5 school was recently approved for the neighborhood in District 20. Most of Sunset Park, along with Park Slope, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens and Red Hook, is zoned for District 15.

It was almost a one-year process to have that school voted on, Councilman Menchaca said, but he hopes to use that momentum to push for more schools in the neighborhood.

"Nothing removes us from our goal and that's to build more schools," he told DNAinfo. "Every site presented its own questions, challenges and excitement."

The location at 517 39th St. is the blighted Sunny 39 Hotel that federal law enforcement officials raided in October. Parents had urged the DOE to turn the hotel into a school after it shut down.

That site however likely won't work as a school.

"It was pretty small as an actual location for a school," Menchaca said. "I would not be surprised for it very soon to be completely ruled out." 

Officials with SCA said the building lacked space for an outdoor yard, plus the truck route along the street created safety concerns, according to Naila Rosario, president of District 15's Community Education Council, who attended the tour.

"We were disappointed," Rosario said. "But the explanation they gave us made sense."

There is still, however, the possibilty of it serving as a pre-K or early childhood center, Menchaca said.

Education officials are also considering sites between Third Avenue and the waterfront, a strip that's previously been avoided because of the six-lane street's truck traffic and heavy industrial use.

In a situation where parents have grown increasingly frustrated with the DOE over the need for more schools in Sunset Park, the tour gave both groups a chance to work together on an important issue, Menchaca said. 

Parents peppered SCA reps with questions about building heights, gyms and noise mitigation, and the city officials got a chance to hear from parents firsthand.

"So much gets done when the residents are in direct access to city agencies around an issue like school creation," the councilman said.

Early next year, Menchaca and Rosario expect that the SCA will whittle down its list of sites and report back to the community, allowing the process of opening new schools to move ahead.

"So this time next year, we're voting on two, maybe three new schools," Menchaca said. 

In the meantime, a task force of parents and local leaders is being assembled to continue pushing the SCA to find new sites sooner rather than later. The group plans to reconvene in early 2016, Rosario said.

A spokeswoman for the DOE said the agency is "working closely with families, community members and elected officials to identify new and appropriate locations for additional capacity to serve the Sunset Park neighborhood that will provide supportive learning environments to help our students thrive."