Department of Buildings Told By Landmarks Preservation Commission Efforts Must Be Made To Save PS 31, Not Demolish The Castle on the Concourse

PS 31 aka The Castle on the Concourse / image courtesy of Lehman College

Updated 12/17/2013 at 7:52PM to include quote from local resident Richard Garey.

Both New York City Department of Buildings and HUD could not provide enough evidence as to why Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) should strip PS 31’s landmark status even in the edifice’s deteriorating condition.

The city agencies tried hard to convince the Commission to approve the application to strip the beloved Castle on the Concourse landmark status so that they could demolish it but instead were met with resistance.

LPC instead, lambasted all city agencies responsible for letting such a beloved structure that means so much to the community to decay. Despicable, shameful, and appalling were just some of the words used by the members of the Commission as they took turns to comment and voice their agreement or disagreement with the application to de-landmark the vacant school.

Only one Commission member voted to approve the application citing the safety concerns however most other members reiterated that anything that can be done to shore up the building should be done.

This would accomplish public safety as well as the preservation of a treasured Bronx landmark.

Every single community resident who provided comments today, testified in favor of protecting the building. Steven Bloomfield, a local resident said that this is something that would not be acceptable in Manhattan or elsewhere in the city nor should it be in the Bronx.

Richard Garey, a 34 year old architect and concerned resident of the Bronx for 5 years who lives near the Bronx County Courthouse just north of PS 31, testified about the importance of landmarking the entire Grand Concourse.

After the meeting he said in a comment on Welcome2TheBronx, “Landmarks expressed great concern that other city agencies dropped the ball on PS31. Whether or not the building can be saved remains up for debate. It was clear that DOB and HPD have given up on their preservation efforts on the building.

While SOBRO expressed interest in developing the property, DOB and HPD did not seem very receptive to this idea. The value of PS31 to the architectural and cultural heritage of the Bronx cannot be understated. If the building does fall to the wrecking ball, should Bronxites accept it?

Perhaps, now is the time that we demand that the entirety of the Grand Concourse be designated a historic district as was recommended by Adolfo Carrion’s Historic Preservation Task Force in 2008. In addition, Landmarks should make a serious effort to designate the other suggested sites throughout the Bronx.”

When I testified, I mentioned that I started a petition which garnered over 500 signatures to date and the Landmarks Preservation Commission acknowledged this by holding up a stack of the over 500 emails they had received in just a few days.

This by no means that we have won nor does it mean that the school is safe but it does mean that our voices united are heard.

Almost every single member of the LDC repeatedly voiced the importance of the landmarked PS 31 to the community and over and over again they agreed that efforts should be made to preserve it for its historical significance and for the people of the Bronx.

One of the Commission members repeatedly asked Tim Lynch, the executive director for the New York City Department of Buildings Forensic Engineering Unit, whether or not PS 31 could safely be shored up to protect the public, however he kept giving him the run around and not answering the question directly.

Ultimately Lynch responded yes that it can be done which pretty much flies in the face of their arguments all along.

Phillip Morrow of SoBro provided solid testimony, including engineering reports from 3 separate firms on the structural integrity of PS 31 which although they did report the building is in serious condition, that it indeed is salvageable.

So many unanswered questions remain.

The city, along with the Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr’s office dole out millions in grants and tax subsidies for corporate welfare but where are they when the community needs just a fraction of what is given out?

Why aren’t we talking about the possibility that someone may be set to make a lot of money on an empty lots that is surrounded by a 30 block area that was recently rezoned to turn many of the manufacturing lofts into residential zones?

PS 31’s lot was not included in the rezoning but all surrounding lots except Hostos Community College are. Some of the lots two blocks away can now be developed to accommodate 30 to 40 story buildings along the waterfront.

Please continue to share the petition as it was obvious to have made a strong impact today. The Landmarks Preservation Commission still has to issue the advisory so let’s show them that we are adamant about rescuing our landmarks!

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Ed García Conde

Ed García Conde is a life-long Bronxite who spends his time documenting the people, places, and things that make the borough a special place in the hopes of dispelling the negative stereotypes associated with The Bronx. His writings are often cited by mainstream media and is often consulted for his expertise on the borough's rich history.