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Lease of Williston Park school draws ire

Cross Street School in Williston Park. (March 21,

Cross Street School in Williston Park. (March 21, 2011) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Mineola school board has unanimously approved a lease of its Cross Street School to a private school, over the objections of Williston Park residents concerned about additional traffic clogging their streets.

The Mineola district, which plans to close the elementary school because of declining enrollment, will lease it to Solomon Schechter Middle School/High School.

“We’re excited about moving forward,” Mineola superintendent Michael Nagler said Friday. He said the district is making slight modifications to the lease and expects it to be signed shortly.

At a meeting Thursday night, Williston Park residents, some who are parents of students at neighboring St. Aidan School, urged the board to reject the lease or wait until a draft traffic report is finalized.

A preliminary traffic study prepared for the board by VHB, a Hauppauge-based engineering firm, found that the total number of vehicles would “be no greater.”  The new school would rely more on buses -- mostly minibuses -- to drop off and pick up students, and less on cars than the current school does.  The study expected that 36 buses and about 10 cars would be used at the new school, while four buses and 42 to 50 cars are used at the current school. 

Rabbi Lev Herrnson, Solomon Schechter’s head of school, said the school would adopt the study’s recommendations, including shifting its school day earlier by 20 minutes to reduce overlap with St. Aidan’s morning drop-off traffic, and prohibiting students from driving to school unless an off-site parking lot can be found.

Mineola board member John McGrath said before the vote that he was “satisfied that the board did its due diligence” considering the traffic impact.

“It will not be unsafe to lease the building to Solomon Schechter,” he said.

Williston Park resident Jeanne Keane, whose children walk to St. Aidan’s School, had implored the district to hold a “dry run” to test the impact on local streets. On Friday, she said she was “very disappointed” that the traffic study didn’t seem to take into account pedestrian traffic at Hillside Avenue and Willis Avenue. “That’s a very serious corner,” she said.

Solomon Schechter, a Conservative Jewish school with about 260 students, is relocating from Glen Cove. Under the five-year lease, the school will pay an average of $265,000 a year in rent for the first three years.

John O’Kelly, whose son attends St. Aidan’s, criticized the terms of the lease. “The net amount to the district is a pittance,” he said Friday.

O’Kelly also complained that the school’s new tenants would leave residents with limited use of its athletic fields.

“They’re excluding the children of the taxpayers who are paying for the maintenance of those fields in favor of hundreds of kids with no connection whatsoever” to the community, he said. “It’s completely wrong.”

Cross Street School in Williston Park. (March 21, 2011)

 

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