The facade of PS 31at the corner of Grand Concourse and 144th St.

Officials, groups urge city to preserve PS 31

Officials and local groups are scrambling to keep the city from demolishing historic PS 31 building as the landmarked building on the Grand Concourse continues to crumble,

The facade of PS 31at the corner of Grand Concourse and 144th St.
The facade of PS 31at the corner of Grand Concourse and 144th St.

Superstorm Sandy further damaged deteriorating landmark

As the historic PS 31 building on the Grand Concourse continues to crumble, officials and local groups are scrambling to keep the city from demolishing it.

The city-owned building once known as the Castle on the Concourse for its majestic design, was constructed in 1899 and landmarked in 1986. It served as an elementary school until 1997.

Now its mark on Bronx history and its architectural elegance has prompted Mott Haven-based development group, SoBRO, to seek a $28 million investment to rescue it from the wrecking ball.

During a June meeting of Community Board 1, officials from the mayor’s office and the buildings department told board members and Mott Haven residents that debris from PS 31 falling onto the street below is putting pedestrians at risk.

“Ideally, we’d like to save the school,” said Nivardo Lopez of the mayor’s community affairs office at the meeting, but added that Hurricane Sandy caused further damage when it struck last year.

Sandy pounded the 144th St. side of the school.
Sandy pounded the 144th St. side of the school.

An engineer for the buildings department, Timothy Lynch, told the board the building had been “causing a public hazard for decades,” characterizing the way it was constructed as “very frail.”

When the community board’s district manager Cedric Loftin asked the mayoral representative to commit to shoring up PS 31 until a new mayor takes office following the November elections, Lopez sounded a somber note.

“If this gets worst, I don’t know if we can make the commitment,” he told the board, adding that “the problems are getting worse every day.”

But Lopez offered a hint of reassurance, saying that due to the old school’s status as a landmark building, “nothing is going to be done in the dead of night.”

Lourdes Zapata of SoBRO is helping spearhead efforts to invest in the school’s survival.

“The building is a wonderful example of architecture, but is a daily deteriorating eyesore for the community and people who are driving by,” she said.

SoBRO has been working to devise a plan to locate educational and art-related initiatives the community badly needs in the building, she said, but added the city will have to act soon to keep it from sliding into further disrepair.

“The building is still structurally sound and salvageable but it is deteriorating daily and is compromised, exposed to the weather,” Zapata wrote in an email to the Herald. “So our deadline is to get something done as soon as possible.”

If the city grants authorization, SoBRO officials say, money to fund an ambitious project will be available. Wall Street financial titans Goldman Sachs recently offered to help finance a plan.

One of PS 31’s most famous alumni, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., is among the former students who hopes the city offers his old school a reprieve. In June, Diaz sent a letter to the commissioners of the city’s Economic Development Corp. and the housing department, urging them to consider “a joint venture between the two.” He  wrote that the building is big enough to allow “creative mix of different uses” but urged the commissioners to act quickly.

In an email to the Herald, Diaz wrote “I went to PS 31 as a child and for me it’s disappointing to see its deterioration.” He added that reuse of the building could include “commercial, retail, or educational uses to benefit our community.”

Additional reporting by Joe Hirsch.

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