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Residents Speak Out Against High School Grandstand Project

Rockaway Avenue residents and neighbors of Garden City High School came en masse to the board of education meeting on Nov. 16, to adamantly oppose the current bond construction project taking place at Garden City High School. Among the many issues that were raised, residents were focused on the safety of the stadium, citing the dangerous traffic conditions and noise from construction, and requested the bleachers be moved to the opposite side of the athletic field.

In October of 2009, Garden City community members voted and passed the school investment bond to address substantial facilities and space needs throughout the district. The $36.5 million bond includes renovation costs to meet health and safety code requirements, as well as reclaim and add learning space for academic programs. The bond called for several structural repairs to the damaged exterior at the high school, which was built in 1953. As a result, the high school’s stadium bleachers were not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The open wood risers pose potential safety hazards and needed to be repaired, according to the district’s website.

Gary Schiede of BBS Architects reported to the board that the fabrication process of the grandstands themselves will take eight to 10 weeks and will be erected on-site. The board asked if snow could cause a potential problem for finishing the construction on time. Schiede responded that the March 1 estimated date of completion includes any weather related issues.

Several residents who live nearby attended the night’s meeting to raise concerns about the size and scope of the new grandstand. Susan McConnell of Rockaway Avenue was vocal about her opposition to new bleachers. “The simple fact is that we are neighbors of the Garden City High School. We deal with traffic every day. We deal with the students during school hours. We deal with game crowds and the parking, the blocking of our driveways routinely during game time, we deal with the late-night band practices,” she told the board.

The resident said the new grandstand will cause even more of a problem than the older structure that many residents described as an eyesore. “They weren’t pretty but we did get to see sunsets. We had a sense of air. And here suddenly without any notice to us, the structure has been torn down and another more massive structure in place,” she said. “We’re upset, we’re angry, we want to be heard, we want to be part of this process,” she said.

The same resident lobbied that moving the bleachers to the opposite side of the football field was a viable solution. “We, of course, realize that students must have a place for their fans to cheer them on. However, we feel that these goals can be achieved and it’s a win-win situation for everyone. Here in Garden City, we’ve been blessed with a plethora of athletic field space. Having taken some preliminary measurements, there seems to be plenty of space on the opposite side of the football field for these new bleachers and that would be an area where there is no taxpaying resident who would be affected by the quality of life experiences or a decrease in their housing values,” McConnell  explained.

Carmelo Marullo, an architect and resident of Rockaway Avenue, told Garden City Life that he learned of the project after seeing that the bleachers were torn down only this week. He said he is in favor of repairing the bleachers, but was unaware that the new grandstand would not allow light to come through it. “What they are now proposing is a closed stadium. Their bond referendum refers to repairing or replacing the bleachers. They are not building bleachers, they’re building a stadium,” he said. Marullo asked the board to reconsider moving the bleachers to the west side of the property. “Why should they build a huge stadium facing the street when they don’t have to?” he said.

School Board President Colleen Foley told the audience that the project has been publicized at more than 35 public meetings over the past year and a half. “First off, it’s not our intention as a board to not be good neighbors. The bond project was in development for over a year, was vetted at every public meeting, was on the front page of the newspaper frequently,” Foley explained, adding “I have to say that I beg to differ that this caught you by surprise. I’m sorry that it did. However, the $38 million bond was the talk of this community for a very, very, very long time.”

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Feirsen pointed out that moving the fields was not considered in the initial talks. “There was no significant discussion to move those fields. The conversation ended when we see the field space that we would lose. It was a decision by this board not to move the bleachers,” Feirsen said.

Foley maintained that she would work with residents on the issues of noise and traffic safety. “If we have cars blocking driveways from our games, we can look into those issues. We’ll have a way to work with the police. If it’s noise from our band, I will ask the superintendent of schools to look into the exact hours the band is playing so we can work out an equitable compromise so that the band can continue and you can have a quality of life.”

Foley went on to say that moving the bleachers was not something the board would consider. “As far as moving the bleachers, that is not realistic at this point because we have plans, we have drawings, we have bids, we have costs. That decision has been made and will not be changed at this point in time. So we’re willing to work with you from where we stand,” Foley said.