Judy Baum | Manhattan | July 6, 2006
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PUBLIC SCHOOLS -- COMMUNITY BASED INSTITUTIONS OR REAL ESTATE?
The recent report (New York Times, June 28, 2006, “Small Schools Show Concern Over Proposal To Swap Land”) that Hunter College wants to demolish the Julia Richman building and build an new bioscience center on its site is alarming and perplexing! Julia Richman Complex, as it is now known, is a model of how a dysfunctional high school can be transformed into a thriving educational center, both in sync with its community and at the same time avoiding either chauvinistic isolation or elitism. Kids go there because the building is safe and accessible and the schools are good. And some kids go to one of its units, the Ella Baker school, specifically because their parents work in the several medical institutions nearby. In fact, that is the express reason that the school was established. Now Hunter says it will exchange the site for a brand new “state of the art” high school to house the current schools – at 25 th Street and First Avenue. The prospect of an expanded Hunter College is literally and figuratively overshadowing the ongoing success of the complex and turning it into just one more piece of real estate.
Veteran city watchers are used to being outraged over real estate encroachments. For public school advocates, this latest development is compounded by top down imposition. Like most of the initiatives that the Department of Education has implemented since the Bloomberg-Klein nexus began, the Hunter matter was negotiated without any consultation with the schools and parents involved. It was only when State Senator Liz Kruger tipped off Urban Academy’s leaders that the building was being eyed by others that they learned something of the plans. Evidently, talks had been going on since last November but there was no discussion with the school community until end of May. That only happened because the school persisted until the Department of Education sent a representative, Jamie Smarr, to meet with them. Yet the Department insists it would design a new building with the schools’ input. At this point, experience tells us to mistrust that promise.
By the way, many high school buildings are worthy of landmark status – they certainly play a key role in the history of the city and in the memories of their graduates. And they are important symbols in their neighborhoods. Who is keeping track of this little corner of city lore as we go boldly forth to new educational enterprises?
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