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New Yorkers rally to turn derelict school building back into community space

On Sunday afternoon, more than a hundred Lower East Side and East Village residents gathered amidst the snow, to once again demand that the long-abandoned former P.S. 64 building be turned back into a community center.

After the school closed in 1977, the building was used as the CHARAS/El Bohio Community Center for over twenty years, until the property was bought by a real estate developer Gregg Singer at a public auction during the Giuliani administration. Since then the building has been the subject of lawsuits, allegations of dark money fueling opposition, and a failed plan to turn the school into dormitory housing for local university students.

Last month, a state judge ruled that the developer’s investors can move forward with a foreclosure after the developer failed to pay the balance of a $44 million loan. A foreclosure would open up the possibility of new ownership.

At the rally on Sunday, locals called on Mayor Eric Adams to buy back the property.

“It will return not only what was lost, but open the possibility of what we can do for this community all over again,” said speaker Anthony Feliciano, who attended the community center while growing up in the neighborhood.

Previous tenants of the space include a community movie theater, a marionette group and Recycle-A-Bicycle. As a student at NYU, Spike Lee also premiered films there.

In 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio expressed interest in the city buying the property during a community forum, but took no steps to do so while he was in office.

“We keep showing up here to ask for something very very simple. To save our community center, and bring it back to its full potential for the LES,” said City Councilmember Carlina Rivera.

In a press release distributed at the rally by the site’s owner, a spokesperson wrote that if approved, the dormitory plan would inject more than $20 million into the economy of the local community. The developer blamed local politicians for halting development and creating “a vacant eyesore in the community.”

The former school is in a state of disrepair currently and there’s now a full vacate order on the property. It was landmarked by the city in 2006, preventing a previous plan which included demolishing the structure.

The Adams administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the community’s proposal.

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