Renewal Looms for
a Grand School
Just Saved from
the Wreching Ball

NEW YORK TIMES, Februarh 11, 2001

Nearly two years after Public School 109 was saved from demolition, the century-old neo-Gothic building may be on a slow road to renovation.

In February 1999, Gwen Goodwin of East Harlem learned that the five-story school nestled among 14-story housing projects, was to be demolished. She formed a local group, the Coalition to Save P.S. 109, which grew to include members of influential preservation organizations like the New York Landmarks Conservancy and the Historic Districts Council.

The school was one of many designed by Charles B.J. Snyder when he swas superindendent of school buildings from 1891 to 1923. The copper-clad cupola, intricate terra cott designs and jutting window dormers created a majestic look, but the design was also practical. Its H-shape and oversize windows let in daylight and provided good air circulation in the midst of what were blocks of dark, crowded tenement buildings. Although some of the valuable terra cotta was removed before the planned demolition, most is stored inside the school and is in good enough conditio to be used for renovation.

Through the coalitgion's efforts, the building was declared structurally sound and added to the State and National Register of Historic Places. But its future remained in limbo for months as its damaged roof and masonry grew worse, Ms. Goodwin said, calling it "demolition by neglect".

In December, after meeting with group members, Manhattan's representative to the Board of Education, Dr. Irving Hamer Jr., informed the coalition that the demolition had been canceled. He promised that the building would be weatherized and protected "over the next couple of weeks."

The School Construction Authority put fencing around the school, but a promised temporary roof has not been installed., and tarpaulins to waterproof the roof have grown tattered. Coalition members are concerned that new damage will make future repairs harder and costlier.

"It's taking more time than I would have hoped," Dr. Hamer said, "but it definitely is going to get done."

By tomorrow, the board plans to grant the school construction agency the authority to requestbids on roofing and masonry so that the building can be protected until renovation begins, said Celia Gutierrez, Dr. Hamer's special assistant.

But it is still undecided what the renovated building will be used for.

Dr. Hamer said: "I'm very hopeful it will be a school. In fact, I'm sure it's going to be a school."