RE: The CHARAS Cultural and Community Center and Public Vocational School
Dear Mayor Adams:
Regarding the decades-long stalemate over the reclamation of the CHARAS cultural and community center (formerly PS 64), you once said: “This nonsense has to stop, and once I am elected Mayor we will issue a building permit and move this project forward.” Now, following the property’s foreclosure, and pressure from the East Village community, you have indeed ordered substantial work onsite. But we wonder: Why now? To what end? And for whom?
As you are aware, built in 1905 and recently designated a landmark, Public School 64 functioned until 1977 when it was shuttered for health reasons (asbestos, lead). Soon after, NYC leased the building to the CHARAS community arts and cultural organization until the late 90s when former Mayor Giuliani auctioned it, evicting the community center. It now appears that the building is back in the hands of the city. Meanwhile, a private auction of the building has been set for March 22, 2023! That’s right! A private auction of a “community use” space! We are opposed to selling our beloved community center which for decades was a place of positivity and enrichment in our community. We demand that it be made anew!
To that end, we address the following proposal to you regarding the building’s future: We ask that as Mayor you reclaim the site through your powers of eminent domain as a “hybrid” public vocational school and cultural and community center to provide a wide range of training opportunities including; computer coding, construction trades, ESL and literacy, nursing, pre-law, public school teacher training, training in the arts, in aviation, and programs for differently abled and neurodivergent individuals, as well as programs for migrants recently arrived in our city.
Utilizing the buildings’ ample 135,000 square foot space, the Community also envisions CHARAS once again serving the neighborhood as a cultural and community center, comprised of various “walk-in” social services (employment, food, housing and health), along with after-school and evening programs such as theater and ﬁlm, tutoring, GED classes, harm reduction services, rehearsal space, dance classes, artists’ work space, children’s theater, and activists meeting space, with a portion of the ground ﬂoor housing the Armando Perez Community Auditorium.
After decades of determined opposition to the destruction of our community center, it is clear that our Lower East Side community wants CHARAS to once again become a beacon of light and hope after sitting so long in disrepair. We can make it a green space, a state of the art facility using renewable energy (solar and wind power), a green roof for urban farming, carbon capturing technology, and composting and recycling programs. The top two ﬂoors of the building can serve as a school for ecology, preparing our youth for careers in sustainability and tackling climate change.
Mayor Adams, we hope you are as inspired with this vision as we are! We call on you to reclaim the building through your powers of eminent domain and then transfer it to the NYC Department of Education (DOE). The New York City School Construction Authority
(SCA) can “green” renovate and upgrade the building. The SCA, charged with keeping NYC public schools safe, attractive, and environmentally sound, maintains hundreds of historic school buildings, and designs, constructs and renovates capital projects in over 1,400 public school buildings, (half of which were constructed before 1949) and is therefore the ideal means by which to reclaim CHARAS.
Your appointee, David Banks, NYC DOE Chancellor, is Chair of SCA’s Board of Trustees. The DOE currently offers Career and Technical Education connecting students to a wide range of career pathways. Furthermore, Public Art for Public Schools, the country’s only public art education program, maintains nearly 2000 existing artworks in the NYC DOE’s collection and provides schools with art to enhance the learning environment and inspire students. How great it would be to offer vocational training in the arts as part of its mission, and to facilitate the participation of East Village neighborhood artists in the project!
The CHARAS Community and Cultural Center and Public Vocational School is a visionary project. But we also believe that it is realistic means of reclaiming the site as a “city-wide” center of social and educational activity consistent with your recently announced “Apprenticeship Accelerator” initiative. And it’s a vision consonant with the legacy of the former CHARAS, supporting our sisters and brothers striving for a better future, offering hope to the under-served in our community in need of attainable, accessible and affordable vocational training.
Thank you Mayor Adams for considering our proposal.