Viva old P.S. 64!

In May 2006, at a City Hall steps rally to celebrate the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s decision to consider designating the old P.S. 64 (former CHARAS / El Bohio building), from left, then-C.B. 3 Chairperson David McWater, Councilmember Rosie Mendez, local activist / dancer Clara Ruf-Maldonado, Congressmember Nydia Velazquez and then-Borough President Scott Stringer.

Mayor de Blasio’s announcement that the city is interested in reacquiring the old P.S. 64 is amazing and heartening news.

Nearly 20 years ago, Gregg Singer bought the decommissioned school building, on E. Ninth St. between Avenues B and C, for about $3 million. Since then — save for a few years until Singer evicted CHARAS / El Bohio from the building — the structure has sat vacant, a sad eyesore.

Making things even sadder, of course, was that with the eviction of CHARAS, the neighborhood lost a thriving cultural and community hub.

The building carries a deed restriction for certain types of community uses, including for a school, a library and a medical facility, among others. However, Singer’s college dormitory schemes have never satisfied locals’ calls for a true community center. More to the point, his dormitory plans — including in recent years — have not met the letter of the law. Local politicians, preservationists and activists continue to fear his real plan is simply to create a “dorm for hire” that lacks any real nexus to local educational institutions.

Worse has been Singer’s truly disgraceful disrespecting of this beautiful, “H”-style (when viewed from overhead), turn-of-the-century building. Early on, he planned to demolish the ornate former school and replace it with a high-rise dorm akin to a slightly smaller U.N. Secretariat building

Another time, Singer proposed saving the building’s front facade while razing the rest and, again, building a tower, though a tad smaller.

All of this spurred the creation of the East Village Community Coalition, which — with the help of then-Councilmember Margarita Lopez and the SAVE CHARAS activists — got the building landmarked, foiling Singer’s development plans. Enraged, he chopped details off the exterior, hoping to block the designation. How crazy was that?

At a holiday-season rally several years ago for the old P.S. 64, from left, Councilmember Rosie Mendez; Borough President Gale Brewer; the Three Kings — District Leader Anthony Feliciano; State Committeeman Michael Farrin; and Val Orselli of Cooper Square M.H.A. — and Chino Garcia, executive director of CHARAS. Photo by Roberto J. Mercado

Then there was the time a spiteful Singer plastered fliers on the building, announcing it would be a facility for ex-cons, troubled youth, drug addicts and battered women. It would all be funny if it wasn’t so loony and mean-spirited.

Speaking this week, Chino Garcia, CHARAS’s executive director, told The Villager that the mayor has assigned several assistants to sit down with his organization and “start working out details.” Presumably, the city will take back the building through eminent domain, paying fair market value. Singer vows he won’t sell. We’ll see about that.

“The mayor would not make an announcement without a plan,” Garcia said, confidently. “It’s sad to see that building empty. It’s a resource that the community could really use — especially given that everything in Lower Manhattan is so expensive. Most of the artists that used to be on the Lower East Side, they went to Brooklyn…to New Jersey.

“I feel very strongly something good’s going to happen with that building,” he said.

All this, however, doesn’t absolve de Blasio of the Rivington House debacle or his intransigence on the Elizabeth St. Garden, where he insists housing must be built — two other community resources he has mishandled terribly.

But somewhere up there, we know — “somewhere over the rainbow” — District Leader Armando Perez, Garcia’s former partner at CHARAS, and E.V.C.C. activist and poet Roland Legiardi-Laura are looking down and beaming over this stunning news about the old P.S. 64.

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