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Parking lot controversy embroils Lawrence School District

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The Lawrence School District is literally tearing down an old playground at the Number Four School to build a parking lot, a project that district officials said was in the works for months before construction began on Nov. 24.

The project has upset a portion of residents on Henry Street, the side of the school where the work is being done, because it comes on the heels of roughly 60 Seth Transportation school buses that were parked on the Harris Avenue field on the opposite end side of the school for nearly three months.

“This is just nasty, there is no consideration for the neighbors,” said longtime Inwood resident Pete Sobol. “Instead of talking to the community they just stepped on the gas and did this with no communication.”

Now a majority of the busses that were being parked on the Harris Avenue field are at the high school in what is called the seniors parking lot. Because of the hybrid learning model being used due to the coronavirus pandemic only 25 percent of seniors are in the building on any one day, Superintendent Dr. Ann Pedersen said.

“This is an improvement at the Number Four School,” Pedersen said, adding that the project was in the works for months and was noted at previous Board of Education meetings as part of the district’s capital projects. “It is unfortunate, but timing is everything and this project was planned for months.”

She added that the playground is old and presented a hazard to users. Pedersen said that the additional parking is needed as the Number Four School lot is small and now the building that opened in 1910 is at capacity with pre-K and, kindergarten classes and Pupil Personal Services housed there. The meetings with parents of special needs children also take place in the school building.

Earlier this month, Inwood residents gathered across the street from the Harris Avenue field and held a news conference to air their gripes on the buses being parked on the field that over the years has seen baseball, fire department drills and soccer, along with many other games being played there. The complaints ranged from the buses engines being run all hours of the day to the bus company employees using street parking usually used by residents.

“This happens when there is no representation,” Sobol said, referring to the school board. “This is a slap in the face. He also noted that one of the points of the contract with Brooklyn-based Seth Transportation is that the buses were not supposed to be older than 10 years. Sobol, along with County Legislator Carrié Solages (D-Elmont) who represents Inwood, say that there is evidence that some of the buses being used are much older dating to at least 1999.

“All buses are SED approved,” said Assistant Superintendent for Business and Operations Jeremy Feder,” if there is an issue with the buses we will look into it.”

Pedersen said  that if she lived on Henry Street she would understand  the residents’ concern over the timing of the construction. Pedersen stressed the expansion of the parking lot is part of the other upgrades to the Number Four School that previously included a new boiler and new roof. She did say that the small van-like buses will be parked at the school.