They’re not throwing away their shot.
Preservationists are name-dropping the popular Broadway musical “Hamilton” in their latest effort to save the landmarked Academy Building at Erasmus Hall High School from demolition. The school’s early benefactors include Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr — the two main stars in Lin Manuel-Miranda’s famous and mostly historically accurate show — and those two long-dead men may be just what the school needs to stay alive, said the president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, a preservationist group working to help save the crumbling, city-owned building.
“I think it gives it a really interesting hook — a really founding father’s enterprise,” said Peg Breen, who estimates restoring the building’s exterior would cost roughly $2 million. “I think now that everyone has fallen in love with Hamilton, using his name is certainly helpful, and I think Hamilton would be pleased all these years later.”
The Academy Building, which sits in the middle of the Flatbush campus, was erected in 1787, and is the state’s oldest secondary school. Builders named the hall for Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus, and it served as an active school until 1895, later housing administrative offices. The city landmarked the structure in 1966, but the Department of Education, which owns the building, left it to rot about 15 years ago, according to one alumna who sent a 2,000-signiture petition to Mayor DeBlasio last year demanding action.
But one year later, the Department of Education still has no concrete plans to save the iconic structure — which city officials could order demolished if its condition gets much worse — and would only comment about its possible uses, though wouldn’t specify on what those plans are, a spokeswoman said.
“We are looking into appropriate uses for the building that preserve its history while still ensuring the safety of students and staff as it is located in the middle of an active school campus,” said spokeswoman Toya Holness.
Laws prevent owners of landmarks from tearing down such buildings unless they are so decrepit that they pose a public danger. Typically, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission sues property owners who let buildings rot until they fall down — a practice called “demolition by neglect” — but the commission won’t pressure the education department, because the city has a policy of not suing itself, according to a commission spokeswoman.
Many alumni want the building to be turned into a museum that teaches about its historical Dutch significance, according to Amy Krakow, who graduated in 1967.
Both Borough President Adams and Councilman Mathieu Eugene (D–Flatbush) are willing to provide cash to help with the restoration — the Beep hopes Manuel-Miranda’s “Hamilton” attracts the city to the building’s history enough so that it can be restored and used for teaching, he said.
“Making the connection between the popularity of the “Hamilton” musical with him being a donor to this and have the students see that when you make an impact in life it can actually exist through time,” said Adams. “Erasmus Hall Academy is a connection to our rich history that can be restored and reactivated for the enduring mission of advancing education. This building can be an asset for our city, serving as academic support as well as a learning tool to teach history and spark dialogue.”
Manuel-Miranda did not return requests for comment.
©2017 Community News Group
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