26 January 2009

Even America's Oldest Schools Are Failing

Ask a politician what he stands for, and he'll say education. We gotta help our kids! We gotta improve our schools! Check out a politician's record, however, and you'll find education is pretty low on his/her list of priorities. American politics has always had everything ass-backwards. Teachers, policemen, firemen, artists—the selfless people that make life livable—are paid squat, and people even complain of paying them that. Corporate CEOS, lawyers, parasitic real estate barons, stockbrokers—the people who make the lives of 99% of Americans miserable—are rewarded and protected.

Why, City Hall doesn't even take care of our old schools. Check this our for symbolism. The original Erasmus Hall building, which sits in the courtyard of the larger, more familiar Flatbush building called Erasmus Hall High School, is in danger of falling down. The building, a dignified but weatherbeaten two-story affair that was erected in 1786, when all our Founding Fathers were still alive (some of whom were founders of the school), is not included in the multi-million dollar renovation of Eramus that is now going on. Go figure that one out.

"The boards are falling off. They're rotting. The roof has a hole in it. And there's water leaking in. The glass is damaged. The shutters are falling off," said Terry Kaplan, Erasmus Hall Alumni Association.

Well, you say, they should landmark the building! They did. It is both a federal and city landmark. But, of course, we all know that means nothing. Landmarking body bestow titles on things all the time, then walk away, as if the structures are going to take care of themselves.

"How I dislike everything that keeps me back, or retards me," Desiderius Erasmus once wrote. I know how he feels.


New Yorker wannabes said...

thank you for this blog entry...

beibg a teacher in greek public schools myself, I couldn't agree with you more. And this goes for my country as well. Poeple wonder why children are the way they are today, with no guidance and deprived of theit youth, but if we don't stand up and fight for them then it is going to be too late. I guess what they say is true... that when a school closes a prison is being built the very same time.

Take care now
peace and love

Anonymous said...

"Landmarking body bestow titles on things all the time, then walk away, as if the structures are going to take care of themselves."

Let me take a stab at what you were trying to say here, and guess that you're stating that the Landmarks Commission doesn't maintain the buildings it designates. That, of course, is correct. With the implementation of the city's landmarks law more than 40 years ago, maintenance of designated buildings remained in the hands of their owners; landmarks designation acts, in a sense, as an additional layer of zoning, imposing aesthetic restrictions that owners are required to meet. When owners propose significant work on a building, it must be approved by the Commission. But LPC has no power to force an owner to do anything if he's just letting a building sit. About all it can do is to sue an owner when a building is in such dire shape that a case can be made for "demolition by neglect." LPC can't require preventive maintenance, nor does it have the staff to police every building.

As you know, the Landmarks Preservation Commission doesn't own the old Erasmus Hall, so it's not fair to blame LPC for its current condition. Blame Bloomberg, blame the Department of Education, but don't blame LPC for this. It's also inaccurate to imply that LPC permits owners to neglect their buildings with impunity. The agency does, in fact, sue neglectful owners; the Skidmore House on East 4th Street is one recent example. (For more on this, go to: www.thevillager.com/villager_87/landmarksruleslandlord.html.)

I see you've been writing about how great Cobble Hill is looking these days. That's largely because Cobble Hill has been a city historic district for the past 30 years. How about a few nice words for the LPC, which has played the key role in maintaining Cobble Hill's architectural and historic integrity over that period? I know it kills you to say anything nice about LPC, but how about giving it a shot?

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Nope, Mikey. No nice words about the LPC from me. And none to come until they start doing a better job. They are failing, Mikey. Falling down on the job, either willingly or out of incompetence. The Commission's a political tool. Everyone knows it. Everyone's writing about it. Why are you such a friend to the Commission? And Cobble Hill looks the way it does because of the dedication of a collection of homeowners who take pride in their homes and in the neighborhood's history—not because the LPC made it a historic district. That initial move helped preserve the district's integrity, but it did not make it "look great." Finally, blaming the LPC is THE SAME as blaming Bloomberg. There's no difference. The LPC gets its marching orders from Bloomberg and always has.