To preserve or destroy?
With plans to turn the former 68th Precinct building at Fourth Avenue and 43rd Street in Sunset Park into a school that would seat 300 kids progressing, the School Construction Authority (SCA) has said it’s looking at demolishing the building that was landmarked in 1983 to make room for the facility.
“Sunset Park is in a desperate need of schools,” said Tamar Smith, manager of external affairs for the SCA during a meeting at Community Board 7 on Monday, June 13. “This site has been on the list for a very long time. We are very pleased to say we were able to reach a negotiation with the owner.”
Smith added that the SCA also has made a deal with the owner of the adjoining empty lot, allowing it to build approximately 12,500 square feet for the future school.
“It’s small, but it will allow us to build a 300-seat school,” she added. “One wonderful thing about this is that the superintendent of District 15 was very pleased with its proximity to P.S. 516 which is across the street. This could be a wonderful addition to that school.”
Councilmember Carlos Menchaca acknowledged the conflict over possibly knocking down the landmark. “This site we have to understand is one that will most likely be demolished,” he said. “This is a sense of loss and we have to understand and work together and think about this as a community. This is not an easy decision we face, but we are in the middle of a crisis for our schools and that is something feel deeply about.”
Community Education Council 15 members made their case why the plan should be embraced. “I appreciate the community’s attachment to the building but my understanding is that it’s been vacant for close to 40 years,” said Henry Carrier, vice president of CEC 15. “If it doesn’t become a school, what happens to the building? Are we just going to wait until it is just a museum piece with no use whatsoever?”
Board members and residents were split over what should be done with the landmarked building. “We have to put into perspective what we’re doing here,” said CB 7 First Vice Chair Cesar Zuniga. “I encourage you to think about this not as preserving a building but as providing a service to a bunch of people who are underrepresented in this room.”
“As someone who has lived the greater part of my life here, yes it is a landmark, but it’s an eyesore,” said CB 7 member Sam Sierra. “We have an opportunity here — 300 seats more for our residents that we don’t have right now. I’m of the humble opinion that we seize this opportunity.”
Not everyone was in favor of the possible demolition, however. “I have always cherished all the buildings that still exist from an older world,” said Camille Casaretti, CEC 15 representative. “I’m embarrassed for the SCA even to suggest that this building would be torn down. I drive by regularly and seeing that building even with the scaffolds up makes me happy to know that these buildings still exist in our world for our children to see these architectural beauties.”
But that could be fulfilled, others argued, even with demolition.
“As far as the CEC and personally, we are really interested in preserving the essence of the building. We do know it’s a landmark building,” said CEC 15 President Naila Rosario. “As a resident of Sunset Park, I would like to know the essence of the building will remain the in the community.”
Smith gave examples of schools such as P.S. 133 at Baltic Street and Fourth Avenue. “It was public school building since the 1890s and had to come down. The SCA built a larger, stunning school that does contain many architectural elements that were in the old building,” she said.
Smith also mentioned Bay Ridge’s “Green School,” which was built on the site of the Bay Ridge United Methodist Church, aka “the Green Church,” and aimed to reference the sanctuary’s distinctive architecture and signature clock tower in its design. In the latter case, however, the church had been demolished by the congregation, which had intended to sell the property to a developer, and the Department of Education only purchased it after those plans had fallen through.
Although attendees had many questions, SCA representatives stressed that they are still early in the process and are just seeking community input.