School Construction Authority a No-Show at Public Hearing

The Bronx Community Board 8 held a public hearing on the School Construction Authority’s proposed public school at 160 Van Cortlandt Park South, but no one from the SCA came to the meeting which was held via zoom last Thursday. 

The board invited SCA to attend, but SCA declined.

“It’s pretty ridiculous that they are not here,” said Dan Padernacht, a board member. “We should demand from them or even forward in the resolution that they appear in front of us.”

School overcrowding has been an issue across New York State where about 37 % of school enrollment exceeds capacity, according to a 2019 report by the Citizen’s Committee for Children of New York. District 10, including Riverdale, Kingsbridge and Fordham, has an overcrowded rate of 42 %.

The SCA has proposed a 736-seat primary school grades from pre-K through five that will open in 2027. It will occupy one-half-acre sharing the site with an affordable housing project by Tishman Speyer. Residents in the area and board members have raised concerns over safety for children, traffic, parking, environmental impact and other issues the new development will bring to the neighborhood.

“I agree that a new school should be put in our neighborhood due to overcrowding in nearby schools,” said Alexandria Fittipaldi, a New York City Department of Education teacher who lives in the Bronx. “But it is important that we keep class sizes low and give our students an opportunity to learn and grow successfully.”

She also questioned the rooftop playground on the proposed school’s five-story structure.

“Being successful is also having a large outside space to run and play in addition to a playground. Not one on top of a roof,” she said.

“Most of our students live in small apartments and then they go to overcrowded classrooms. They don’t need a cramped space to play in,” she said. “They need open space.”

Christina Carlson, a resident who lives next to the proposed site, echoed that children need to “have a safe outdoor ground level playground as opposed to a rooftop cage that nobody knows how tall it is supposed to be.”

SCA first notified CB 8 about the new school proposal on November 19, 2021, but the sizing and planning of the school have since changed. The most recent document was a Negative Declaration issued by SCA on June 22, 2022, pursuant to their 144-page Environmental Review published on May 26, 2022. 

In the document, SCA determined that the project “will not have a significant adverse impact on the environment including but not limited to traffic, parking, flooding, noise, air quality, shadows, and sewer system because their plans will mitigate those impacts.”

The site is located on Van Cortlandt Park South, at the entrance to the Major Deegan Expressway. Residents living near the site said that the area has already suffered from congestion because of the volume of traffic. The SCA will mitigate some of the traffic problems with the implementation of traffic signals and adjustments to signal timing, according to the document.

Traffic at the entrance to the Major Deegan Expressway. Mingxuan Zhu for The Bronx Ink.

“How will we be able to reassure our neighbors here that there will not be double parking of parents, guardians and caregivers picking up their children,” Fittipaldi said. “This is going to make the commute longer for everyone.”

However, without the presence of representatives from SCA, Tishman Speyer and the state senate in the public hearing, the board can only act as a mediator.

Since October 2021, the board has had people from SCA and Tishman Speyer coming to land use meetings and education meetings separately, but they never show up together.

“Both School Construction Authority and the developer (Tishman Speyer) should be here where they stand as two different projects but they stand on the same block and the impact of traffic and space etc. is a shared concern for this site,” said Rosemary Ginty, a board member.

“I think there needs to be another public hearing of this community with representatives from both agencies appearing,” she said. “You can’t figure out what the issues are or what the questions are until you get a full presentation. Otherwise, you’re just guessing what the issues and questions are. You have a feeling for your community but you need that presentation.”

Another board member, Camelia Tepelus, added that there is also a lack of authority in the meetings.

“I would beg the office to make a more concerted effort to have our elected representatives tell the community what they believe about these projects,” Tepelus said. 

“We are an advisory body but these people are people in executive positions. I do believe that the board could reach out a little bit more not to hear only from people but from the people they voted for,” she said.

Jeffrey Dinowtiz, the New York State District 81 Assemblyman, who has been supporting a new school at the site but voiced concern over the size of the school at the Sept. 13 full-board meeting did not come to the public hearing. In an email response, he said that his office does not have a formal role “other than being a voice for our community to bureaucrats.” However, he said that he is “absolutely aware of the issue,” and his office “will do what we can to help advocate for reasonable concerns to be rectified.”

The CB 8 Chair, Laura Spalter, said the SCA has stated it will respond to the comments and questions raised and will “come back later in the process to publicly discuss design and construction with representatives from the Department of Education.”

However, a joint meeting with both SCA and Tishman Speyer has yet to be scheduled.

“We’ve been told different things by different people,” said Martin Wolpoff, a board member. “There’s misinformation and there’s no information and there is counter information. And we’re not getting any of it as correct.”

Residents have reached out to both Senator Alessandra Biaggi and Senator Robert Jackson who oversee SCA about the issue.

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