Vol. 13, No. 3 Feb. 10 - 23, 2000



     
 

Schools in the Armory? Chicago Shows the Way
Federal Funds Used in Windy City Available but Unused in NYC

By HANNAN ADELY

QZABs? 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 and Xerox.

Now, 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 school space.

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," Jordan said.

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 10 children."

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 Calderon said.

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 the vote.

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