Imagine a state-of-the-art pre-K center next to the New York Hall of Science in Corona, with seats for up to 300 4-year-olds, and attention to science, engineering, math and the arts. Children could take advantage of the museum, and the center could take pressure off a crowded school district.
It sounds grand, and it might be worthwhile. But NYC officials have to do it right. Queens Borough President Melinda Katz has objected to NYC’s plans, saying officials need approval from Albany first. That’s because the space the city Department of Education wants to use for the center is part of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Under state law, any development could require Albany’s approval. The Hall of Science, built for the 1964 World’s Fair, was approved for science museum use.
The specific issue is whether using an asphalt parking lot near the hall for the pre-K center requires separate approvals. Department of Education officials say existing approvals allow for broader educational uses. And the school wouldn’t be built on parkland that is grass or trees and used for ball-playing or picnics.
The city and developers at nearby Willets Point just battled all the way to the state’s highest court over a mall planned for Citi Field’s parking lot. The state Court of Appeals ruled the parking lot was still parkland and developers could not build there without specific permission from the legislature and the governor.
The need for pre-K spots in the outer boroughs is indisputable. But before rushing forward with a grand plan, city officials should allow for community input, confirm this is the best educational strategy and seek legislative approval.
If a pre-K center is the best use, state officials should allow it to move forward, and the city should make it a reality.