From Queens Chronicle:

The Department of Education is toying with the idea of building a pre-K facility on top of Newtown High School’s volleyball and handball courts at 91-48 57 Ave. in Elmhurst, a proposition that has not gone over well with the school’s administration or hundreds of concerned area residents.

“I have no say in it,” Newtown High School Principal John Ficalora said in a Tuesday phone interview, “but they are aware the school is not happy with this.”

An online petition in opposition to the plan which was started last month had gained 1,043 signatures by Wednesday, imploring the DOE to think of the school’s students who use the area, along with the complex’s tennis courts, running track, baseball diamond and turf field.

“We cannot allow the Department of Education to take away a place where young people go to participate in sports and a place where young people learn the values of leadership, character and school culture,” the petition reads. “Once these facilities and teams are lost, they will not be replaced, thereby denying all future generations’ usage of their very own field.”

Newtown High School’s volleyball and handball teams, which participate in the Public School Athletic League, frequently use the courts to practice and play.

“Our students would lose the ability to use the courts for PSAL games,” Ficalora said. “Our students would lose the ability to use it through intramurals and recreation. It would be a big loss.

“It’s a beautiful field that would be diminished by this plan.”

The principal added that his students have become activists in defense of their courts, signing the online petition and writing letters to the DOE expressing their opposition.

“I have no idea if they will be successful,” he said, “but they’re trying as hard as they can.”

When asked by the Chronicle for specific details, a DOE representative simply said the agency is looking for space to place a pre-K facility somewhere in Elmhurst.

“We are working closely with the

[Community Education Council], families, community members and elected officials to identify a suitable location for a new pre-K site in Elmhurst” the spokesperson said, “that will provide additional space for students to have a supportive learning environment.”

Ficalora said the agency only approached him “recently” to bring the plan to his attention, and he believes it to be only in the “planning phase” at this time.

“I don’t think they’re far along with this yet,” he said.

Newtown Civic Association President Tom McKenzie could not be reached by press time, but his group slammed the plan on its Facebook page.

“If this is true then this is a disgrace and a travesty towards the Elmhurst community, Newtown High School and its youth!” the civic association said. “We must get involved in the happenings in our community or every inch of land will be taken over and our quality of life will be at the bottom of the list.”

Michael Mallon, communications director for Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), told the Chronicle on Monday that the lawmaker had heard rumors of the pre-K plan, but that “nothing has been put before our office.”

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