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Don't Destroy Historic Garage for New Sunnyside School, Advocates Say

By Jeanmarie Evelly | October 10, 2016 6:00pm | Updated on October 11, 2016 5:30pm
 The city is considering a new middle school for the site at 38-04 48th St. in Sunnyside.
The city is considering a new middle school for the site at 38-04 48th St. in Sunnyside.
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DNAinfo/Jeanmarie Evelly

SUNNYSIDE — It's a battle between history and the neighborhood's children.

Plans to build a much-needed middle school on the site of an old garage has drawn the ire of local preservationists who say the structure is too precious to be destroyed.

The city is looking to purchase the privately-owned property at 38-04 48th St., home to a two-story former garage, most recently occupied by a pool hall but now sits empty.

A 600-seat middle school is being proposed for the space, something local parents have been pushing to get for years to accommodate the growing number of children in the neighborhood.

But preservationists say the garage should be saved due to its historical significance. The building was designed by renowned urban planner Clarence Stein, one of two architects responsible for designing Sunnyside Gardens.

Though the building sits just outside the boundaries of the landmark historic district, it was designed as part of the project in the 1920s as a garage for Sunnyside Gardens residents to park their cars, according to architectural historian Barry Lewis.

"He didn't want to eat up the space in the city blocks with garages and driveways," said Lewis, who said the building was designed with features similar to  the homes in Sunnyside Gardens, including its red brick.

"You'd be ripping out one of the major components of Clarence Stein's original plan," he said.

Residents said they are also worried about the impact a new school could have on parking and traffic.

"It will have an adverse affect on the neighborhood and the residences, especially the historic houses that back up against this," said Jeffrey Kroessler, a Sunnyside Gardens resident and historian who spoke out during a Community Board 2 hearing about the proposal on Thursday.

"I'm sorry to have to oppose the school. It makes it sound like we are bad people because we don't like good things for children, that’s not the case," he said. "Find a better location."

The School Construction Authority has yet to purchase the property, and hasn't determined whether or not it would tear down the existing building or re-purpose it for the new school, officials said.

"No decision has been made as to whether or not we will — can, even — preserve this building," Michael Mirisola, director of external affairs for the SCA, said at the CB2 meeting.

Mirisola said the need for a new middle school in the area is "very, very real," and local parents say identifying the 48th Street property as a potential site was the result of an exhaustive and years-long search.

"We've been looking for a site for a middle school for years. It's a very involved process," Deborah Alexander, Community Education Council president for District 30, said at Thursday's meeting. "I promise you, everything has been investigated."

There's currently only one middle school in the immediate area, I.S. 125, which local parents say is not enough for the rapidly growing neighborhood.

"Year after year, your neighbor's children have been crossing district lines ... or taking public transportation to other neighborhoods to get to middle school, because your neighbor's children do not have a zoned middle school," Alexander said.

Sean McGowan, a local parent who started the campaign for a new middle school, said he supports the idea of preserving the facade of the historic building and incorporating it into designs for the new school.

"I want to point out that this site is up for grabs — we have to be realistic here," he said. "If this school doesn't happen, someone is going to come along and want to build there."

Mirisola of the SCA said the agency would explore the possibility of preserving the existing building, but warned that the vacant property may not be salvageable.

"Please understand that this building has undergone many changes, has deteriorated a great deal," he said."

"I also don’t know, if it were possible, what those costs would be," he said of restoring the site. "Remember, we're a city agency — we have your tax dollars to be concerned about."

The SCA will accept feedback on the proposed school location until Nov. 4. The proposal will ultimately need to be approved by the City Council in order for the city to purchase the property, according to the SCA.

Members of the public who want to submit their comments on the plan can email sites@nycsca.org.