August 2, 2010; Source: New York Times |
Sometimes, conflicts between nonprofits and neighborhoods are conflicts between right and right. In Harlem, a lovely old public school built in 1903 was closed in 1975 and eventually sold to the Boys & Girls Club in 1986. The contract required the Boys and Girls Club to develop the building and dedicate 85 percent of the space to nonprofit community uses.

Unfortunately, the school was never developed and left to deteriorate for the next 25 years. The neighborhood believes that the Club’s failure to develop the school constitutes a breach of contract and the city should take back the building. But astonishingly, the City’s disposition processes in those days did not include reverter provisions to take the property back. Now the Boys and Girls Club has proposed demolishing the school and replacing it with a 200,000 square foot building containing low-cost apartments, community and retail space, a new home for the Club, and possibly a school.

The community wants the school restored rather than demolished, but the options seem to favor the Boys and Girls Club. The major community option would be to get the school landmark status, but that has failed in the past. This West Harlem story is a case of good intentions gone awry by the Boys and Girls Club and understandable community anger by those who want to see the school restored.—Rick Cohen