James Fusco, who lives one block away, said construction has been going on for months, but that he couldn’t find out what was going to replace what is now a vacant church.
“Who are these people?” Fusco asked at the WRBA’s monthly meeting Saturday, where board members addressed the issue.
The Circle Academy Charter School is in talks to lease the property at 85-27 91st St. in hopes of opening a charter school. Michael Estep, spokesman for Circle Academy, said the property owner, Kings Point Heights, is making the improvements to the building.
“We have not been involved in any of the construction or any decisions about any of that, other than meeting our needs,” Estep said.
Circle Academy has filed a letter of intent with the New York State Board of Regents to open the school in District 27. It must submit a full application to the state Education Department by March 28.
The 91st Street building would only be used for the 2015-2016 school year, until another property at 75-14 Jamaica Ave. is ready for long-term use in the 2016-2017 school year, Estep said.
Circle Academy would lease both properties, and those leases are contingent on approval by the state.
“We were seeking a smaller space that we could handle financially and then move into the building at Jamaica, and even then we will only be using portions of the building,” Estep said. “We will not be using the whole building until we grow into it.”
If approved, Circle Academy would serve kindergarten and first grade in 2015-2016 at 91st Street, with an estimated enrollment of 154 students. When it moves to Jamaica Avenue, it would then add one grade level for each of the following four school years and ultimately serve kindergarten through fifth grade, with an estimated enrollment of 506 students in 2019-2020, according to the letter of intent.
Vincent Amabile, Jr., another Woodhaven resident, questioned the need for a third elementary school in the neighborhood.
“Charter schools are public schools that cost a lot of money to operate,” he said, suggesting any public education money should be used to enhance the existing schools. “Charter schools are just a large expense. Who knows what children they’re going to put into it?”
Who goes would be determined by a lottery held in April 2015, if approved. Estep said waiting lists for charter schools are usually two to three times their capacity. There are 185 in New York City, with 12 in Queens, according to the New York City Department of Education website.
Maria Thomson, who served on the WRBA for 40 years, said she supports the proposal because it wouldn’t take up space in an existing public school building and that Circle Academy is investing a lot of money into the project.
“I look at it as an excellent investment in the community,” she said. “They’ll bring money in, they’ll employ people here, the children will benefit by it; an additional level of education that they wouldn’t get in the public school.”
Each classroom would have about 24 students and two teachers, and will employ the workshop model, which clusters four-to-six students at table.
Circle Academy was scheduled to speak at the WRBA meeting Saturday, but backed out at last minute, Martin Colberg, president of WRBA, said. In their place, Thomson addressed the issue, sparking concern from some as to why they had not yet heard about it.