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Historic Sunset Park NYPD Precinct May Be Demolished For School Building

By Nikhita Venugopal | June 14, 2016 11:48am | Updated on June 14, 2016 7:08pm
 The former precinct building at 4302 Fourth Ave. in Sunset Park. The red-brick building has been left in a state of disrepair for years. Many of its exterior walls are covered in graffiti and its windows are boarded up. The property is fenced off and surrounded by scaffolding.
The former precinct building at 4302 Fourth Ave. in Sunset Park. The red-brick building has been left in a state of disrepair for years. Many of its exterior walls are covered in graffiti and its windows are boarded up. The property is fenced off and surrounded by scaffolding.
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DNAinfo/Nikhita Venugopal

SUNSET PARK — To prepare for the future, Sunset Park may have to give up a piece of its past. 

A landmarked castle-like building that once served as an NYPD precinct could be demolished to make way for a new school that the neighborhood desperately needs to combat overcrowding, officials said Monday night.

The 130-year-old property at 4302 Fourth Ave. and an adjacent plot are being eyed for a 12,500 square-foot elementary school building with 300 seats, according to the School Construction Authority [SCA].

But the city will likely have to tear down the former police precinct and stable at the site, which was designated a landmark in the early 1980s but has been left vacant for years.

"That is a site that will most likely be demolished," said City Councilman Carlos Menchaca, who spoke at the start of the meeting.

Tamar Smith, the SCA's manager of external affairs, said Tuesday that they did not have enough information at this time to make a decision regarding the demolition. 

"A historic building has a lot of limitations," she said at a joint public hearing with Community Board 7 and District 15's Community Education Council.

Officials have been scouring the neighborhood for properties that could be used to create new school seats in Sunset Park. But the search has run into several hurdles, such as the too-small size of a property or a landlord unwilling to negotiate.

They have reached tentative agreements with both owners of the precinct property and the adjacent lot, Smith said.

The former precinct site and the adjacent lot would give the city about 12,500 square-feet for what would be a very small school. Smith said they typically search for properties between 15,000 to 20,000 square-feet.  

If the city were to open the new building at the site, one option would be to use it as an annex for the neighboring P.S. 516 in order to maximize the amount of classrooms space. (An independent school would need a cafeteria, auditorium and other facilities that an annex could forgo). 

Officials from the School Construction Authority said they were still very early in the process and would not make those decisions right now. 

The SCA will have to go through the state Historic Preservation Office and the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission before the project can move forward, but officials said it was too early to comment on the landmark process.

The period for public comment continues through July 15. The city will then move to an environmental study, followed by approvals from the City Council and mayor. 

The Romanesque revival-style station house was built in 1886, according to a report from the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Though it has housed multiple police precincts, it is most commonly known as the former 68th Precinct.

Most residents and community members who attended the meeting acknowledged the need for school seats in Sunset Park, but they urged the SCA to preserve the "essence" of the historic structure.

"We have to try and preserve the building as much as possible," said Elena Romero, 43, a lifelong resident of Sunset Park.

But due to overcrowding in local schools, Romero had to send her children to P.S. 133 in Park Slope.

"We have no choice. We're bursting at the seams," she said. 

Board members also saw the project as an opportunity to make use of the decrepit building that's fenced off and surrounded by scaffolding. Graffiti covers parts of the exterior walls and some arched windows have been boarded up. 

The SCA has in the past retained architectural elements of older buildings while constructing new buildings, Smith said, such as P.S. 133 at Baltic Street and Fourth Avenue and P.S. 30 in Bay Ridge. 

Though 300 seats is a small fraction of seats needed in Sunset Park, District 15 superintendent Anita Skop urged that the project move forward. Funding has been set aside for hundreds of  school seats in Sunset Park, but the area lacks space needed to build a new school, officials have said. 

"We have one school that has close to over 1,700 children," Skop said. "We have another school that has over 1,600 chidren."

"We are desperate," she said.

But a handful of locals who attended the meeting protested the loss of a historic building.

"This is the heart and soul of Sunset Park," said resident Peter Kruty. “That building fires the imagination of everyone who sees it.”

"[It] just makes me so happy to see that these buildings exist," said Camille Casaretti, a CEC member and the PTA president of P.S. 32 in Gowanus, a part of District 15.

But the needs of Sunset Park are different from the rest of the district, board member Ceasar Zuniga countered.

"When you're in a neighborhood like ours that's so underserved, sometimes you have to prioritize things," he said. 

CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of the story misattributed a quote regarding the possible demolition to Tamar Smith, the manager of external affairs for the School Construction Authority. That quote has been removed.