Deer Park plan to sell school building draws criticism
A proposal to sell a former school building that houses day care and youth programs in Deer Park to a developer who wants to build senior housing is the latest in a series of similar controversial efforts across the Island.
In Deer Park, developer Engel Burman Group, of Garden City, would pay the district between $5 million and $6.6 million for the Washington Avenue property. It then wants to build as many as 244 units of housing for seniors.
Owners of the new residences would pay property taxes to the district, and that revenue, along with the sale proceeds, would go toward reducing the district's tax levy, school officials said.
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The proposal faces a May 20 referendum.
Two-thirds of Long Island's 124 school districts are facing falling enrollment and at least four -- Seaford, Lindenhurst, Island Trees and Deer Park -- are considering or have considered selling school buildings to developers of senior housing.
At a standing-room-only school board meeting last week, board president John Gouskos said the district must consider selling the building. "We have an ethical responsibility to propose these solutions," he said.
Experts said the proposal is in keeping with recent aging-population trends on Long Island.
"It's not a shock that, given demographic and economic trends, we'll be closing schools, and they'll end up serving seniors rather than children," said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University.
Still, the Deer Park proposal was met with skepticism by many who came to the board meeting.
"What if that was your children, or your child, being displaced?" asked Catherine Antoine, whose 13-year-old son has attended programs at the 17.7-acre Washington Avenue property. "These children will remember that the board . . . chose money over them."
Enrollment in Deer Park has decreased by 6 percent over the past five years, to 4,294 this year, and officials say they expect further declines. District officials say they chose to sell the Washington Avenue property over two other disused school buildings.
They said the building costs about $150,000 a year to maintain and takes in around $77,700 in rent. Officials also said that some tenants are in arrears on their payments.
They say the district offers after-school programming of its own, and that if a sale goes through, they will work with the privately run programs at Washington Avenue to relocate.
But residents say their neighborhood can ill afford to lose a space their community depends on.
While the census tract composing most of the area around the Washington Avenue building has about 1,713 children of school age, the second-highest of the community's seven tracts, it has no operating schools and one town park.
"They have alternatives," said Diane Jones, director of the Little Scholars Child Center day care facility, which has an enrollment of 130 and rents space inside the building. "There's nothing on our side in our community for our children. If they take that building away, there's nothing, not even a basketball court."