SCA in discussion to expand P.S. 97: Councilman Vacca

P.S. 97 on Mace Avenue should see a major expansion to its physical plant.
Community News Group / Patrick Rocchio

P.S. 97 may be seeing a major expansion that would bring students inside from temporary buildings.

Sources confirmed that preliminary details are being worked out on an expansion to P.S. 97 that could include new classrooms, an auditorium, a gym, an expansion of its lunchroom and an elevator.

Councilman James Vacca said on Monday, October 31 that he received word that funds were being allocated in next year’s city budget to build an extension to the building, and that its principal has been meeting with the School Construction Authority to discuss tentative proposals for expansion.

Vacca said he had requested that SCA do a feasibility survey studying expansion because the pre-kindergarten through fifth grade school has 16 portable classrooms in temporary structures on the grounds of the school.

“We have gotten good news that it looks like the money will be there in the coming fiscal year,” said Vacca, adding “(P.S. 97) has 16 portable units, one of the largest portable unit contingents in the Bronx.”

Many of these portable units have aged, he said, and having students in them means they have to travel between them and the main school building for lunch and special classes, sometimes in rain and snow, he said.

“This is something that over the years has fallen through the cracks,” said the councilman. “I have been pressing the SCA and it is good news.”

The school also lacks an elevator, said Vacca, and an expansion would make it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Kathleen Bornkamp, the principal, said that oftentimes students who unable to climb a staircase are unable to come to school if they have class above the first floor because the school doesn’t have an elevator.

When students have to move between two sets of temporary buildings outside of the school into the main building, educational time is lost, said the principal.

The oldest of the outdoor buildings are red trailers, which have been in place for about 15 years and are literally falling apart, said Bornkamp.

“We are very short on space,” she said. “This building was built for 332 students and we have 746.”

Currently, the school lacks a gymnasium, auditorium and a cafeteria capable of preparing food, she confirmed.

Instead, P.S. 97 relies on a multipurpose room that accommodates about 100 students at a time aa a lunchroom that re-heats food that is cooked elsewhere, she said.

The entire proposal has not yet been fully developed, said Bornkamp, but the hope is that construction could begin as early as the fall of 2017.

Building more classroom space has been a capital budget priority for Community Board 11 as well, said Jeremy Warneke, district manager

“In general, we don’t want portables at any of our schools,” he said. “They were supposed to be temporary, but they became a permanent thing.”

The portable classrooms don’t create an environment conducive to learning, said John Fratta, CB 11’s business coordinator and past district manager.

Reach Reporter Patrick Rocchio at (718) 260–4597. E-mail him at procchio@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @patrickfrocchio.

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