Opposition to the potential sale of the Number Six School has coalesced into an ad hoc organization made up of concerned homeowners and parents calling themselves the Community Coalition of the Five Towns.
Organized by Woodmere resident Joshua Schein, the group, which Schein said has several hundred members, strongly opposes the planned sale of the closed elementary school to Simone Development Companies.
The Lawrence School District voted in January to sell the 80,170-square-foot building and its 6.7-acre site to Simone for $12.5 million. Simone plans to lease the property to Mt. Sinai Hospital, which would turn it into a 60-doctor, 30-specialty medical facility and urgent-care center. The sale is subject to a public referendum scheduled for March 20.
Calling the proposed facility a “mega-medical center,” the coalition claims that it is not an appropriate use of the site, at 523 Church Ave. in Woodmere, because it is adjacent to a residential neighborhood and would eliminate the recreational space the community uses.
Simone’s plan calls for paving the grass ball field and basketball court area to create 456 parking spaces. The existing playground would be maintained, but moved from its current location, near Peninsula Boulevard, to what would be a landscaped area by Church Avenue.
“I would rather see something that benefits our community and our children, such as a library or community center,” said Schein, adding that the already heavy traffic, along with the vehicle volume the medical center would generate, would also be a problem. “Traffic is a tremendous concern,” he said, “and not just the roadways the developer is talking about, but the side streets as well.”
According to figures provided to Lawrence’s Board of Education and Simone by Greiner-Maltz, the Plainview-based real estate broker the district hired to market the Number Six School, the property could generate approximately $1 million a year in taxes for the district, the Town of Hempstead and Nassau County. “The facility will be the fourth-largest taxpayer in the school district, and taxes will amount to tens of millions of dollars over time,” said attorney Ben Weinstock, who represents Simone.
The potential revenue doesn’t appear to sway residents who oppose the plan. At a town hall meeting at Lawrence Middle School on Feb. 27, Woodmere resident Nidia Mondejar was adamant in her opposition to the plan. “Your parking numbers are fanciful,” she said, taking issue with a traffic study presented by Melville-based Cameron Engineering, which concluded that the number of vehicles entering and exiting the medical facility would not justify installing a traffic signal at any of the site’s driveways.
Rachel Marks, another Woodmere resident, has been an outspoken critic of the plan. Marks has said she believes the property should reflect the integrity of the surrounding neighborhood. “Our community and the Simone group do not share a common goal,” she said. “While their goal is profit, ours is quality of life. A large medical facility is at odds with the quiet and safe residential neighborhood we have chosen to raise our children in.”
Fellow Woodmere resident Josh Justic also said that the community would not be well served by the Simone plan. “All the children in the Five Towns need fields to play in, green space to enjoy,” Justic said. “Their parents deserve to travel in our town without gridlock. This sale is the greatest threat to our quality of life in our community.”
Some residents of the school district favor the sale, saying it would benefit the district financially and could help rejuvenate surrounding businesses. “I support the sale,” said North Woodmere resident Flora Chen. “We need the money.”
“I absolutely support the sale,” said Greg Wright, also of North Woodmere. “It’s important that it is not only sold to the highest bidder, but that it will go back on the tax rolls. Also, it could revitalize the shopping area nearby.”
If voters approve the sale, it would be the third time the school district has sold a school. In 1980, Lawrence sold the Number Three School to the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway, and in 2007, the Number One School was sold to a developer for $29.1 million.
Board of Education President Dr. Asher Mansdorf said that declining district enrollment was the reason the Number One School was sold and the Number Six School is for sale. “It would be great if every neighborhood sustained its [student] population,” Mansdorf said, “but it’s not the same as the ’50s and ’60s.”