|Vol. 13, No. 3
||Feb. 10 - 23,
Schools in the Armory? Chicago Shows the Way
Federal Funds Used in Windy City Available
but Unused in NYC
By HANNAN ADELY
Sounds like something you'd stick in your ear. Actually, QZABs are
Qualified Zone Academy Bonds, a federal program designed to renovate
old buildings for educational uses. And the Norwood News has learned
that the city of Chicago has utilized QZABs to transform the neglected
Bronzeville Armory, an historic landmark, into a school and museum.
Parent activists in the Bronx have been touting QZABs, created by
the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, as a way for New York City to construct
schools at the Kingsbridge Armory and relieve chronic overcrowding
in District 10. But so far no one in officialdom seems to be taking
up the cause, even though about $120 million in QZAB money is up for
grabs in New York State.
John Buckley, a QZAB expert and Democratic chief tax counsel on the
Ways and Means Committee in Congress, said a plan to renovate the
Kingsbridge Armory for school space would be "exactly what this
[QZAB] was designed for, if it can be physically renovated for a school.
That's what the Chicago project did."
Reduces costs by half
According to the New York State Department of Education, QZABs reduce
the cost of school projects by about 50 percent by eliminating interest
payments. Instead, the federal government subsidizes the interest
to lenders through tax credits.
To qualify for QZAB, at least 35 percent of local students must be
eligible for free lunch -- in the area surrounding the Kingsbridge
Armory that figure is at least 75 percent -- and schools must enter
into a partnership with the private sector. Private businesses and
organizations must provide 10 percent of the bond amount, which can
be in the form of goods and services including materials, labor, technical
assistance, teacher training and mentoring.
Chicago armory now a school
In announcing his plan to develop the armory into a mall and multiplex
cinema, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said constructing schools in the armory
would not be feasible.
But the idea was embraced in Chicago where the Bronzeville Armory
was successfully converted into the Chicago Military Academy, a public
high school, with students in grades nine to 12. Although smaller
in size, the Bronzeville Armory shares many traits with the Kingsbridge
Armory. Both are situated in minority, low-income areas and both have
landmark status. And like the Bronx armory, the Bronzeville Armory
was unused for years and was in a state of severe disrepair before
it was renovated.
"It was one step short of collapsing," said Glen Shriver,
project administrator for the Public Building Commission in Chicago,
the agency that managed the project. "This thing was an eyesore.
The roof was lying on the drill hall floor. Trees were growing out
of it." The building was in such bad shape that the stones had
to be reset, explained Shriver, but because of its landmark status,
the city wanted to save the building and preserve its original structure.
Chicago Public Schools (CPS) purchased the armory in 1997 and financed
the renovation and construction of the school with $14 million from
the QZAB program. (Since New York City already owns the Kingsbridge
Armory, no purchase would be required.) CPS also secured business
contributions from groups like the United Way, Ameritech, IBM, Dell
the three-level armory contains 12 classrooms, a drill hall/gymnasium,
a library, administrative space and a former ballroom that serves
as a lunchroom. The armory also houses a museum of African-American
military history. An annex connected to the main building will be
completed in August 2000, adding more classrooms and science and computer
labs to the school.
Funds 'just sitting there'
Although QZABs are the brainchild of Charles Rangel, the powerful
Harlem Democrat who is the ranking member of his party on the Ways
and Means Committee, his home state has not yet taken advantage of
the program. "They've been really slow," said Kellen Flannery
of the National Coalition of Education Associations, a nonprofit education
advocacy group. "Almost half of all the states have taken advantage
of the bonds so far."
The state has accumulated $91 million in bonds and an additional $31
million will be added to that fund next year. According to Ronn Jordan,
a Norwood parent who has become something of a local expert on QZABs
as a member of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition's
(NWBCCC) Education Committee, about $60 million of that money is earmarked
for New York City.
NWBCCC members hope the city uses that money so that the proposal
the organization developed in collaboration with architects at Pratt
Institute -- which includes space for three schools and a variety
of community and commercial uses -- has a shot at becoming reality.
"[The city] could be using money that's just sitting there,"
Jordan said. But last month, Giuliani adopted a plan to turn the armory
into a shopping and entertainment center without school space.
Even if the city could nab cost-cutting QZABs for the armory, the
mayor seems to be standing firm behind his own proposal. A spokesperson
for the mayor wouldn't comment directly on the federal funding, but
said, "The mayor feels that the renovation and operation would
be very expensive and the project he envisioned would be self sufficient."
"I think the mayor's people haven't researched QZABs or investigated
our proposal," Jordan said. But the School Construction Working
Group (SCWG), a citywide coalition of education organizations that
includes NWBCCC, brought QZABs to the attention of the Board of Education
when it met with Beverly Donohue, chief financial officer for the
board, who is "very excited about the idea," according to
Jordan. Officially though, the board's press office refused to comment,
saying that plans for the armory and school funding fall under the
mayor's jurisdiction. The SCWG will also meet with schools deputy
chancellor Harry Spence this month and try to enlist the support of
interim schools chancellor Harold Levy for utilizing QZABs to put
schools in the armory. Community School Board 10 has also weighed
in with a unanimous vote supporting the inclusion of schools in any
armory redevelopment plan (see article below).
Giuliani's plan must navigate a lengthy land-use review process which
will require support at several levels of city government, and activists
say they will use that time to promote using part of the armory for
Parents like Ronn Jordan believe that the Kingsbridge Armory is the
poster child for QZABs and cannot imagine the city failing to capitalize
on their on their existence.
"The armory is tailor-made for the use of these bonds,"
Ed. note: All Norwood News articles about the Kingsbridge Armory
published over the last 18 months are available on our Web site:
www.bronxmall.com/norwoodnews. Click on "Ongoing Story."
School Board Unanimously Supports Schools in Armory
By HANNAN ADELY
Community School Board 10 unanimously passed a resolution supporting the
construction of schools at the Kingsbridge Armory at its Jan. 27 public
meeting. The vote was significant because the board, which is usually
plagued by infighting between its Riverdale and non-Riverdale factions,
rarely, if ever, votes unanimously.
The resolution, authored by board president Oliver Koppell, called
upon the mayor and city agencies "to alter the proposed plans
for the Kingsbridge Armory to include school facilities for District
The board condemned Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's plan that would convert
the armory into a shopping and entertainment center. "It's amazing
that the mayor can approve building a mall in a place full of businesses
in a district that is starving for schools," board member Myrna
District 10 principals who attended the meeting agreed with the board's
action. "The mayor is going to put up a store there and he says
that he cares about children," said MS 45 principal Joseph Solanto.
"The fact that he chose business and not schools shows where
his priorities are."
Meeting attendees also stressed that the mayor's plan would attract
unwanted traffic to the area. It doesn't make sense "to put a
Home Depot there with all the traffic, when there's two schools across
the street," said Frank Gonzalez, principal of PS 246.
The school board also suggested that a plan to build schools in the
armory could alleviate problems at PS 246. Located just two blocks
away, at the corner of Kingsbridge Road and the Grand Concourse, PS
246 is severely overcrowded and was condemned two years ago because
it is in such poor physical shape. In its resolution, the board called
for the replacement or renovation of PS 246.
Koppell emphasized that the board would take "all necessary steps"
to promote schools in the armory, and would consider planning a rally
to campaign for such a plan.
Board members Ted Weinstein and Eleanor Leinen were not present for
Back to News
News | Opinion | Schools
| Features | Ongoing Story | Home
About Us | Past Issues