Vol. 11, No. 21 Nov. 5 - 18, 1998


Rally Draws Attention to New Uses for Abandoned Armory


The poet was named Mariposa -- the Spanish word for butterfly -- but she dropped rhymes more like a bomber.

"Our children are not being just failed, but jailed," she said, as demonstrators at the Oct. 25 rally at the Kingsbridge Armory went wild. Her poem attacked the government for somehow finding enough money for prisons while vetoing school repair and construction funds over and over.

"Let them learn with dig-ni-ty! Give up the Kingsbridge Arm-o-ry," chanted Mariposa, a slight woman in a bandanna made from the Puerto Rican flag, and some 300 onlookers took up the call.

The turn-of-the-century armory stands empty, except for a small homeless shelter for women, but it is still an imposing presence at the corner of Jerome Avenue and Kingsbridge Road, and one that education activists from the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition would like to put to better use. They marched from three local schools affected by the school overcrowding crisis: PS 33 near Fordham Road, MS 80/PS 280 in Norwood, and PS 46 in Fordham Bedford.

"It would enhance the Bronx to have the armory as a historical keepsake people can use," said marcher and Norwood resident Ora Holloway.

Shouting through a megaphone on the armory steps, Joan Byron, of Pratt Institute, displayed architectural drawings (see accompanying story) her organization prepared, which she said would marry the armory's historical importance with community needs.

Carolyn Braxton, the president of the University West Burnside Neighborhood Association, beamed as she listed the many facilities she would like to house at the armory: after-school programs, tennis courts, a senior citizens center, Meals on Wheels, and schools, the focus of the rally.

But when asked if she resented how, in the face of these social needs, the enormous armory still remained derelict, she stopped smiling. "Yes," she said.

Home attendant Christopher Estrada has lived in the Bronx 17 years and saw his two daughters through crowded District 10 schools and John F. Kennedy High. Speaking in Spanish, he raved about the potential for such a big building.

"We don't have the support of an ample school in the area where the kids live," Estrada said. "They're too small! We need a big school for our community."

While not a mother herself, protester Milagros Bencosme felt compelled to come all the way from Marble Hill to send a message about priorities.

"I would like the politicians to listen to us about the armory," Bencosme said. "They say from here we can make about three schools. I think overcrowded classrooms concern everybody."

Back on stage, Bedford Park mother Lois Harr reminded listeners that their dreams cost money and prompted them to act politically.

"The next thing we need to do to move this eyesore into something beautiful is get the money from the city, the state, and the federal government. It's not going to fall from heaven," she said.

The coalition has already begun to gather together a couple of pieces of what promises to be a very large and complicated financial puzzle. The New York/New Jersey HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area) -- the regional office of the federal Drug Czar -- has been hard at work in New Jersey and in Manhattan, helping communities convert armories there into facilities for youth and athletic programs. (The rationale for the effort is the Clinton administration's emphasis on "demand reduction," giving kids something constructive to do and distracting them from drug use.) Now, they're helping the coalition find the money for a feasibility study for Kingsbridge.

Some politicians did attend the event, including Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and elected School Board 10 members Myrna Calderón, Carlos Cortes, and Thomas Murray. City Councilman Adolfo Carrion, who is on the hunt for almost $30 million that the city originally appropriated for the armory, spoke to reporters at PS 33.

In the tow of parents, or on their own, schoolchildren remarked on the difficulties the crowding crisis poses for their studies.

"You don't have as much attention from the teacher," said Tram Truong, a senior at DeWitt Clinton High, 16, who passed through University Heights' PS 91 and MS 206B as a girl. "Learning is on the decrease, because the majority of students are too shy to ask questions, and the majority of the attention goes to a small group."

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