City still looking at Dyker’s Angel Guardian Home for school site: source

A school may yet open at the site of the storied Angel Guardian Home, according to a source close to the Department of Education (DOE).

That source told this paper that, despite various claims that the DOE had backed away from the table, negotiations are continuing between the agency and the site’s sellers, the Sisters of Mercy, even as the Catholic Charities Progress of Peoples Development Corporation (CCPOP), announced in mid-April that it was no longer pursuing the purchase of the 140,000-square-foot site, 6301 12th Avenue, citing, “the uncertainties regarding the availability of low-income tax credits and other government subsidies for the future development of low-income housing.”

Given the size of the property, the reality, the source explained, is that the DOE could potentially build several schools on the site, if, of course, the entire lot is purchased by the agency. Another viable option, the source said, would be to split the sale and use the site for both a school and senior housing, both of which are needed in the community.

With its history in mind, the sale of the Angel Guardian Home is one locals hope goes smoothly, and into the right hands.

“I’m all for people making money, but we, as a board, should demand that the School Construction Authority get together and do whatever they have to do [to make that site a school],” remarked a board member at Community Board 10’s April full board meeting, held at the Dyker Heights Knights of Columbus, when the conversation turned to school overcrowding in the district.

“That would be a beautiful campus,” the man went on, to which CB 10 District Manager Josephine Beckmann responded that such a move is already being looked at.

“There is not one school in District 20 that is now below 130 percent capacity,” Beckmann added, stressing that any updates on Angel Guardian would be shared with the board as they come in.

“Right now, District 20 is once again the most overcrowded district in the city,” noted Community Education Council 20 President Laurie Windsor. To ease that, Windsor said, the DOE has slated a “whopping” 10,332 seats for the district in the current capital plan – 4,869 of which are already funded. “The money is there,” she said, adding that while “maybe” 1,000 seats are now in design, District 20 continues to fall short because of the paucity of available sites.

“Getting a huge site such as the Angel Guardian property would mean that we could finally make a dent in the overcrowding in that particular area of the district,” Windsor said, noting that neighboring schools to the site like P.S. 176 and P.S. 310 are at 153 and 164 percent capacity, respectively. P.S. 176, she said, has 1,408 students when it should have 919, while P.S. 310 has 451 when it should have only 275.

“[A space like that] would provide relieve to the neighboring schools and also give back their cluster rooms such as art and science,” she said.

There’s also a huge need for senior housing, said Dyker Civic Association President Fran Vella-Marrone.

“I support senior housing for that site. That’s something that we desperately need in this community and that we don’t have enough of,” said Vella-Marrone, noting that only a small fraction of applicants who just recently applied for housing at Bay Ridge’s Shore Hill facilities will in fact receive it. “We have people who want to age in place and they can’t, so I think that we need to focus on senior housing for that location, which would be perfect for it.”

Senior housing, she added, was a large part of Catholic Charities’ original plan for the property – and, perhaps most importantly, something its sellers really want.

“The DOE is looking at it,” Vella-Marrone said of the property, “but they cannot take the entire site, and I don’t think the Sisters of Mercy want to [split] it. They want to do senior housing; they want to maintain that green space, and I don’t believe that what the DOE will do with that space will allow for that.

“I just think it would be a missed opportunity,” Vella-Marrone went on.

Both would be worthy options, noted 43rd District City Council Candidate Justin Brannan. “We need to ensure that our seniors can lead healthy and rewarding lives right here in our community. At the same time, if the Angel Guardian Home will not be used for senior housing, we should use the site to provide much-needed additional seats for local students,” he contended. “This will ensure that the site is put to the best possible use, and remains a valuable space for the entire neighborhood.”

The home was built in 1902, according to city records, and served as an extension of the Convent of Mercy, housing hundreds of orphans and eventually acting as a formal adoption agency until the 1970s.

In 2003, the Angel Guardian Home merged with St. Mary’s of the Angels Home to form the MercyFirst network of agencies. Until late last year, the campus – which spans the entire block – housed the offices for the Sisters’ foster care program as well as a senior center.

The Dyker Heights community bid adieu to the institution at a November 2016 goodbye party, during which employees, former volunteers and past residents were able to reminisce in preparation for Angel Guardian’s office’s eventual move to Industry City in Sunset Park in January of this year.

By press time, the DOE had not responded to a request for comment.

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