Call it a lesson in preservation.
The Department of Education must save the 200-year-old landmarked Academy Building at Erasmus Hall High School that it has let crumble for more than a decade, alumni demanded in a recent letter to Mayor DeBlasio urging the city to take action.
“Our main problem is the Department of Education,” said Robin Sherman-Epstein (Class of 1968). “It’s terrible, how could they let this happen? This is history.”
Property owners may not demolish landmarked buildings without the city’s blessing, but some intentionally let landmarks fall into such disrepair that the city condemns the structures. The practice is called “demolition by neglect.” The commission can sue negligent landlords to prevent demolition by neglect — it did so recently to force the sale of Sunset Park’s landmarked 68th Precinct Station House and Stable — but the commission does not sue other city agencies, including the Department of Education, a spokeswoman said.
Alumni’s 1,800-signiture petition urges Mayor DeBlasio to take the building from the Department of Education and give it to an agency that can appropriately repair the historic landmark.
Officials refused to provide exact plans for the Academy Building, but spokespeople for both the education department and landmarks commission said the agencies are working together to figure something out — the same thing a schools spokeswoman told the New York Times in a 2009 article.
The building, erected in 1787, is the state’s oldest secondary school and the first the Board of Regents chartered, according to a commission report. Builders named the hall for Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus, and it served as an active school until 1895, later housing administrative offices. The city landmarked the structure in 1966. The Department of Education left the building to rot about 15 years ago, and the agency’s inaction inspired grads to take up the building’s cause, an alumna said.
“The Department of Education has not taken a stand on this building at all,” said Amy Krakow (’67). “We have taken it upon ourselves to help move this along.”
Krakow and other alumni will visit the school this fall for the 1966 and 1967 classes’ 50-year reunions. The two classes want to see a Dutch History museum in the Academy Building to maintain its historical Dutch significance, Krakow said.
“Our two classes at our reunion are going to help raise funds to start a museum of Dutch history in New York,” she said. “This building needs to be restored. We see that as part of our life, part of our experience in high school, and part of the history of New York and the United States. That’s a big deal.”