Underhill playground becomes battleground

Children at the Underhill playground on Monday, Aug. 20. The Department of Education building can be seen in the background.

Prospect Heights residents are frantically trying to stop a center for suspended high school students from opening in September, right next to a popular playground.
 
The center, once a New York City Department of Education office building, will house two academies for students serving both long- and short-term suspensions.

This site, at 355 Park Place, is one of 38 around the city and will provide instruction and counseling for the students.

As many as 70 students will attend the school. The kids have been suspended for periods ranging from 30 days to up to a year.

Sexual harassment, bullying, bomb threats and drug and weapon possession are all grounds for suspension, according to the New York City School District Discipline Code.

Residents say the high school students would not mix well with the parents, nannies and young children who flock to Underhill Playground on the same corner.
 
“It seems like a recipe for tragedy,” said Jason Orans, a film producer who often takes his two-year-old to the playground. “The community is very, very alarmed.”
 
Because the playground, described by one babysitter in the area as “very diverse,” is the only public space in an otherwise residential area, Orans said the suspended teenagers might all hang out there and get into fights.
 
“They’re going to be miserable when they come out at the end of the day, and maybe they’re going to take it out on this neighborhood,” Orans said.

Marisa Cazanave, a teacher who works at a Prospect Heights school, disagreed. She said the concerns are overblown.

“They’re afraid of what they don’t know, what they think might happen,” Cazanave said of some in the neighborhood.

Marge Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the DOE, said staggered dismissals will prevent the entire student body from exiting simultaneously. Staff members will escort students to subway stops.
 
The center is scheduled to open on the first day of school this year, Thursday, Sept. 6.

Space not adequate, some say

Others said the space is inappropriate for educating students, said Councilwoman Letitia James, who represents the neighborhood. Though students will be provided with lunch, the building will not have a kitchen. There will also be an exercise room and area for a library.

Prospect Heights residents remember a far different neighborhood just 20 years ago. Murder in the area is down almost 90 percent since 1990, rape down 77 percent and robbery down 85, according to NYPD statistics. Today, it is known for its sprawling green space, brownstones and the soon-to-be-completed Barclays Center.


Miles Dixon contributed reporting.



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