Students May Return to a Former East Village School Building

By Patrick Hedlund on May 24, 2010 5:47pm 

The former P.S. 64 building on E. Ninth Street, which a longtime educator wants to reestablish as a private school.
The former P.S. 64 building on E. Ninth Street, which a longtime educator wants to reestablish as a private school.
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DNAinfo/Patrick Hedlund

By Patrick Hedlund

DNAinfo News Editor

EAST VILLAGE — School could be back in session in Alphabet City.

A vacant former school building that’s languished on East Ninth Street for nearly a decade may reopen to students based plans on interest from local educational institutions.

After it was initially indicated that a nonprofit theater group was eyeing space in the defunct P.S. 64 building near Avenue B, the real estate firm marketing the block-through site said it has been entertaining offers from “several serious candidates” looking to restore the landmark property as school or student housing space.

Real estate brokerage Brown Harris Stevens, which re-branded the H-shaped building as the University Houses at Tompkins Square Park, describes the space in marketing materials as “ideal for schools, universities, museums, college dormitories, medical offices, hospital, foundations, nonprofit institutions and related facilities.”

In response, a handful of local colleges and independent institutions have inquired about the 150,000-plus-square-foot building, including a longtime educator who hopes to establish a private school at the site.

“Things look very promising,” said Warren Sorgen, a vice president at Broiwn Harris Stevens. “We’re hoping to see something in the next couple months.”

Sorgen would not comment on which schools had approached his firm, but many Manhattan-based colleges have recently expanded into satellite locations, including a controversial plan by New York University to add 6 million square feet across the city over the next 25 years.

Kimber Barton — who most recently served as director of finance at the Lycée Français school on the Upper East Side and the Brooklyn Friends School before that — told The Villager that he’s working on attracting investors to a plan that would bring a private school for pre-K through high-schoolers to the six-story structure.

“I’m hoping there’s an angel somewhere,” Barton told The Villager of possible investors, noting that the $40 million asking price to buy the fully gutted building is “outrageous.”

He currently has no funding, and thinks he needs to attract at least $3 to $4 million to even consider taking out a lease.

The building owner, Gregg Singer, bought the building at an auction for $3.15 million in 1998 but caught flak when he evicted its last remaining tenant, a cultural and community center, in 2001.

Singer was vilified by many in the community for the move, as well as for stripping portions of the 1906 building’s façade in 2006 in a last-ditch attempt to stave off landmark designation.

Since then, only light construction work has proceeded at the site despite the fact that a stop-work order exists on the property.

Sorgen appeared skeptical of Barton’s claim, if only because he acknowledged having no capital to work with.

“He seems like a lovely man with a vision, and I wish the best for him,” the broker said, adding, “he’s told us repeatedly he wants the building, and he’s told us repeatedly he has no money.”

Sorgen said that a number of private schools and “several” New York City-based colleges have expressed interest in redeveloping the space as classrooms or student housing.

He added that a consortium of investors currently controls the property and that Singer only plays “a very small role” in the selling process.

“The neighborhood is rallying around the project,” Sorgen noted. “They want it brought back to economic life.”

If a school does ultimately open in the building, it would join a British-based elementary school opening on Second Avenue and Second Street this fall and a planned high school operated by the Grace Church School in Cooper Square.

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