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Schoolhouse rocked! City may raze Board of Ed building for new development

Class act: The 116-year-old Board of Education building on Livingston may not be long for this world.
Jim.henderson / Wikimedia

The city plans on handing over an old Downtown Board of Education building to a developer, in a deal that could spell the end for both the 116-year-old structure and historic Red Hook Lane, but also create space for a new public school, a local leader announced on Wednesday,

City officials will soon ask real-estate companies to submit pitches for the site of the handsome Beaux Arts building that fronts onto Livingston Street and makes an L-shape around to the laneway, Community Board 2 district manager Rob Perris told the panel at its monthly meeting.

He says the winning structure will include space for a 500- to 700-seat public school, which would help ease the squeeze that Downtown’s development boom has placed on local houses of learning.

“[The city] acknowledged the need for additional school capacity Downtown,” said Perris, who says he has met with the city’s Education Construction Fund, Department of Housing and Preservation, and Economic Development Corporation to discuss the plan.

A spokesman for the Corporation, which is the city’s development arm, confirmed the plan to redevelop the building, but claimed a school is just one possibility for the space at this stage.

Either way, the winning developer would score a 99-year lease on the land, where they will likely be able to erect a sizable structure — as Downtown’s zoning has no set height caps — that could include housing, retail, or offices.

Preservationists have called for the city to landmark the stately brick building in the past, but that never happened, and now it is possible the entire thing will be razed, the spokesman said.

The rep says the scheme is still contingent on it securing air rights from Red Hook Lane — which is still a street you can drive down, but was technically demapped as part of the 2004 Downtown Plan — to allow the developer extra altitude, and it still hasn’t guaranteed it can do that.

It is also possible the city will close off Red Hook Lane entirely for a new building, Perris reported, which would be the end of one of the borough’s oldest streets as well as the end of a popular artery to Fulton Mall.

“It could have serious implications for how people get around,” he said.

Local families and pols have been demanding the city build a new school in the neighborhood — which has accumulated 7,000 new units since the 2004 rezoning — fearing an impending overcrowding crisis in an area where some schools are already bursting at the seams.

Perris said the proposed school may not be for grade-schoolers, though — since it would be surrounded by busy and dangerous roads — but the city could instead move an existing middle or high school into the new digs, then put a new elementary school in its old space.

The rep, however, claimed the city is still hashing out the details of the plan and is unable to provide any specifics at this time, though it will consult with the community before moving ahead.

“NYCEDC is in the early stages of exploring potential development at this site,” said spokesman Anthony Hogrebe. “While it’s too early to speak to specific uses, we look forward to working with community leaders and hearing their ideas in the months ahead.”

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill.

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