from the New York Post, Sunday, May 9, 1999


An antiques dealer is carving up a century-old public school in East Harlem, and may be offering its windows, gargoyles and cupola for prices of up to $100,000 not a cent of which would go to the city.

The salvage operation at P.S.109 sanctioned by the School Construction Authority hs infuriated neighbors and elcted officials who are fighting to block demolition of the ornate brick-and-limestone building at 215 East 99th Street between Second and Third Avenues.

Officials at the SCA say they don't care what happens with the highly prized architectural details as long as the building comes down at the lowest possible cost to the city.

"From a taxpayer point of view, we got a good deal," said SCA spokesman Jack Deacy. He said the $1.9 million demolition bid was about half the projected cost.

"We don't have any particular expertise in what the market value is for these details. We get the lowest bid we can for demolition," he said.

State Sen. Olga Mendez (D-Manhattan) said she is so outraged by the scavenging that she's called on Gov. Pataki to step in.

Mendez called the attempt to sell off pieces of the school "unconcionable."

Following public outcry, a state inspection revealed that the SCA never conducted state-mandated reviews of the school's historical and architectural significance.

Preliminary findings by state inspectors show that PS 109 would qualify for landmark status, but it could take months for a final determination.

"It was an honest mistake," said Deacy.

Michael Marr, a spokesman for Governor Pataki's Moerland Commission, which is investigating the SCA and Board of Ed, said they've been looking into the problems at PS 109 and are "troubled by some of the allegations."

Evan Blum, the owner of the Irreplaceable Artifacts salvage firm, says no pieces of the school have been sold.

But William Duckworth, a member of the Coalition to Save PS 109, said he was shown pictures and promised a $20,000 dormer and a $100,000 cupola when he recently posed as a customer at the store in Lower Manhattan. "I may have said, 'I'd love to sell it to you,' but the project has stopped," Blum said.

Blum was hired by the demolition company, Morris Park Contracting, to remove a few pieces of facade that the Board of Ed wanted to preserve.

But he's also been removing other sections of the school, which are now stored inside pending the demolition go-ahead.

Blum defended what he does, saying he is a preservationist by trade who would rather see a historic building remain intact whenever possible.

"If this building comes down, this is the next best thing. Otherwise, they'd be in the dump," said Blum.

Prompted by complaints, the SCA's own inspector general has also begun an investigation.

Four years ago, the Board of Ed decided the school was under-used and unsafe. It was shut for repairs. Two years later, repair estimates rose, and the board opted to knock it down.

"It wasn't only a matter of cost ... It was unsafe," said Board of Ed spokeswoman Marjorie Feingold.

Gwen Goodwin of the Coalition to Save PS 109 blamed the building's neglected state on the SCA, which has failed to maintain it for the past four years.

Goodwin and a group of parents learned that pieces were being offered for sale while they were fighting to save the school.

PS 109 was built in 1895 by C.B.J. Snyder, the legendary schools construction chief who designed dozens of schools to accommodate and uplift the tidal wave of poor European immigrants flooding the city.