Great Neck residents debate student parking lot project

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An aerial shot of the proposed parking lot, as seen on page 26 of an April 3, 2017 presentation regarding the bond, shows the project would involve adding 97 new stalls and reconfiguring the current lot. (Photo courtesy of the Great Neck Public Schools)
An aerial shot of the proposed parking lot, as seen on page 26 of an April 3, 2017 presentation regarding the bond, shows the project would involve adding 97 new stalls and reconfiguring the current lot. (Photo courtesy of the Great Neck Public Schools)

Residents’ concern over a new student parking lot at Great Neck North High School  continued at a school board meeting Monday night, with more than a dozen speakers taking to the podium to debate it.

This follows another meeting late last month, where 13 community members flooded the podium to talk about the lot, as well as a steady trickle of people expressing concerns at previous meetings.

The planned 97-unit parking lot is part of a $68.3 million bond package approved in May by a vote of 6,299 to 1,925, which includes critical infrastructure repairs and school upgrades across the school district.

The proposed additions for North High School, as seen here in an April 3 presentation, include a slate of lab upgrades, new air conditioning and electric panels, as well as a new parking lot. (Photo courtesy of the Great Neck Public Schools)
The proposed additions for North High School, as seen here in an April 3 presentation, include a slate of lab upgrades, new air conditioning and electric panels, as well as a new parking lot. (Photo courtesy of the Great Neck Public Schools)

The new parking lot at the corner of Beach and Polo Road will cost $591,700 and reconfiguring the Polo Road corner lot with it will cost about $60,000.

It would also involve paving over a soccer field, which Superintendent Teresa Prendergast previously said is a muddy “breeding ground of mosquitoes” that has not been used “for any athletic contest for about 20 years.”

The school would also add 60 Leyland cypress trees around the lot’s perimeter and a 30-foot barrier of undisturbed vegetation along Beach Road.

Parking lot critics at the meeting, most of whom live on Beach or Polo Road, argued that the addition of a parking lot will incentivize more inexperienced drivers and could worsen flooding in the area and that the field has seen some use and thus should be preserved.

They also criticized the board for not specifically reaching out to residents affected by the proposed parking lot.

“I’m asking you to please revisit this because this is not something you would want to have done on your block,” Ruth Gebay told school board members. “I look for safety for all of our children and we have an opportunity to do that with Parkwood, without walking, without creating this mess.”

She was referring to a parking lot at the nearby Parkwood Sports Complex that some residents said could be used instead.

Supporters of the lot argued that it would improve safety, giving students an ample place to park off of Beach and Polo Road, and that it would not necessarily add 97 new drivers. They also pointed to presentations the Board of Education held about the $68.3 million bond and said it was carefully deliberated.

Sarah Kane, the parent of a sixth-grader and an eighth-grader who will be going to North High School, said she understood the safety concerns of residents in the area. But, she said, this lot will actually help alleviate some of them.

“I think that there has to be a recognition of the fact that we’re talking about the same cars, the same number of people,” Kane said, “but now there’s going to be a safe place to put them.”

Kane also asked about the possibility of installing sidewalks during construction so children could have a place to walk.

Barbara Berkowitz, president of the school board, said board members are not reconsidering the project, the information was well advertised and disseminated, and that they will forward comments to BBS Architects and Engineers, the school’s architect, and other relevant individuals.

“We listened and we will be addressing their concerns as Dr. Prendergast said in her first statement,” Berkowitz said.

School officials have also previously argued that a special committee carefully considered the decision, the project will boost safety and it reflects a reality that many students drive for jobs, internships or other responsibilities.

Berkowitz said the timeline of the project depends on when the state Education Department approves the project and is unclear at this time.

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