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Derelict LES Bathroom Could Become Community Center Under Renovation Plan

By Serena Solomon | October 10, 2012 7:18am

LOWER EAST SIDE — From bathroom to classroom?

A derelict restroom and other underused spaces in the neighborhood could be transformed into community centers under a plan being put forth by local advocacy organizations. 

The Hester Street Collaborative (HSC) and Asian Americans for Equality are eyeing three locations on the Lower East Side for the project: the abandoned bathrooms in the Allen Street pedestrian plaza at the corner of Delancey Street, a storehouse at the southern end of Sara D. Roosevelt Park near Stanton Street, and another building located inside Seward Park.

The organizations have begun analyzing what local residents would like to see become of the spaces, as well as the funding necessary for capital improvements at the rundown buildings.

"We want to re-purpose these buildings to meet gaps in services of what is being offered in the neighborhood," said Dylan House, community design director for HSC.

The structures could be used for activities such as community classes or public meetings, advocates explained.

The organizations began surveying residents of the Seward Park co-ops over the summer about what they wanted to see in the under-utilized buildings. HSC and AAFE will present the idea to Community Board 3 Thursday to gain its input.

At least $1 million has already been allocated from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and matched by the city's Department of Parks and Recreation, which is enthusiastic about the idea, House said. The Parks Department did not immediately return a request for comment.

"The Allen Street building, it really needs to have some serious work done on it," House said of the abandoned restroom area. "There are plants growing on the roof. It is in pretty bad shape."

Built in the 1930s, the tiny Beaux Arts-style structure once serviced passengers from the elevated trains that traveled along Allen Street, House said. After the tracks came down in the '50s, the bathrooms were abandoned.

"It could be an information or gallery space for the neighborhood that helps people orientate themselves," said House, of possible uses for the former bathroom. "There could be a lot of ways to look at it."

The building in Seward Park, located near the co-op buildings, is partially used by the Parks Department as offices and storage space. It could also use some capital improvements, House noted.

"The only entrance into the community room is through the women's restroom, so that is a major issue," he said. "It is an old building, so it has some peculiarities."

The third building, located in Sara D. Roosevelt Park is currently being used as a storehouse by the Parks Department and the two organizations will be working with the Sara D. Roosevelt Park Coalition to convert it to community space, according to House.

While there is no set date for when the community could move forward with the plans, House said both organizations would be busy throughout the fall and winter engaging local residents to get their opinions for the spaces.