Oct. 19, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
A charter school plans on expanding into Long Island City, and is seeking to operate within a commercial and warehouse building currently under construction.
Our World Neighborhood Charter Schools, with existing locations in Astoria and Howard Beach, wants to open its third location as part of an upcoming building at 9-03 44th Rd., where developers have so far been working on a three-story office and warehouse building.
The elementary and middle school would form part of the building, which broke ground earlier this year, through a six-story enlargement set to rise up from the middle of the development.
The charter school plans on eventually serving about 700 students in grades K to 8 at the location, and would only occupy a small fraction of the building’s base while virtually operating solely out of the slimmer addition up top.
Representatives for the charter school, along with Barone Management, which is developing the building, explained their project at an Oct. 17 Community Board 2 Land Use meeting. They noted that they are applying for a permit with the Board of Standards and Appeals to open the school since it will be located within a manufacturing district. Schools are only allowed in such districts by special permit.
If all goes smoothly, the new charter school location could open in September 2020.
The building will not only add a new elementary school into OWNCS’ roster, but would also be where its existing middle school in Astoria will be relocated to, according to Mark Crusante, director of external relations for OWNCS.
Kindergarten and first grade students would be first to move in during year one of the new school’s operations before scaling to grade five after five years time.
The OWNCS middle school in Astoria, meanwhile, will also gradually transfer its students and operations into the Long Island City location after the five year phase-out, he said.
About 450 students will make up the elementary component of the school, with about 250 students comprising the middle school section.
It is unclear what will happen to the cleared-out Astoria building, however.
The charter school indicated that Long Island City is its preferred location, as it senses a need for additional school seats in the area.
“We’ve all become familiar with the need for school seats in this school district, which is district 30, and we’d like to help that need,” said Howard Goldman, land use attorney for the school.
The six-floors in the school portion include 32 classrooms, and facilities like a cafeteria, library, and a gym on the top floor. About 120 staff members are also expected at the school.
The building’s commercial and industrial base, meanwhile, features a ground floor to be made up of partitioned warehouse space. The upper two floors will be for office spaces, while roof terraces will be equipped with lounge style seating areas and even a bocce ball court.
The charter school’s entrance will be within the building’s base along 44th Avenue, with its lobby carved out and away from the commercial and industrial portion of the development.
The project team believes the school within the building, zoned for manufacturing, would not pose a problem.
“Although it is in a manufacturing district, it’s not a heavy manufacturing area in terms of surrounding uses,” said Ariel Holzer, a zoning and land use attorney. Offices and parking lots make up the bulk of the area, and the site itself is directly across from a hotel.
The school has also set up a pickup and drop off plan to help move traffic efficiently outside the entrance. It plans on using a mix of a no standing and private drop off zone, along with school staff, to guide students in and out of the building at the start and end of the day.
Some board members, however, expressed concerns about 44th Avenue, which they say is already a problem area because of its narrow roadway and trucks blocking stop signs.
As part of the BSA application, however, a private traffic analysis team will come up with a report recommending potential safety changes to surrounding roadways and intersections, including crosswalks, traffic signals, signs, and more.
The analysis will then be sent to the DOT, which will issue its own safety plan with findings and recommendations as part of the application.
The project team ultimately does not anticipate a significant increase in traffic, given that buses and cars will come in staggered, and mainly at the start and end of the day.
Most of its staff is projected to come using public transportation, additionally. The school, however, will look into setting up reserved parking spaces within a nearby garage.
The BSA application process for the school will kick off soon, with the school team expected to return to Community Board 2 for a public hearing on the item some time in December.
Our World Neighborhood Charter Schools, started in 2001, says its mission is to turn students into independent thinkers and lifelong learners through a liberal arts intensive program.
The charter first began publicly floating the idea for a third location within District 30 over the summer, where it held information sessions and opened an online survey to gauge interest in the school.
Update 2:40 p.m. – The school could open in September 2020 if all goes smoothly, not in 2019 as previously written.