New School critics worry building will become an eyesore

By Marc Ferris | January 05, 2009 12:30PM

As if New School President Bob Kerrey didn’t have enough problems contending with a faculty and student revolt against his leadership at the Greenwich Village institution. Now, neighborhood watchdog groups and politicians have ramped up their efforts seeking details about the status of a proposed glass-sheathed student center at 65 Fifth Avenue, concerned that the building-in-waiting will become an eyesore. The Real Deal reported on the controversy in November.

Preservationists have marshaled local political bigwigs to press Kerrey about the state of the building and its future. The entire institution erupted into turmoil in December when students stormed the administrative offices, seeking the removal of Kerrey and school Vice President Jim Murtha. There was an ensuing clash – including one arrest — with police. That came after the faculty overwhelmingly passed a no confidence vote regarding Kerrey’s leadership.  

Kerrey, the former senator from Nebraska who presided over a campus rebranding and an expansion in enrollment since taking over as president in 2001, along with Murtha, are girding for a fight and have pushed hard for the new student center. Neither Kerrey nor Murtha were immediately available for comment.

The economic climate put the project’s future on hold, but the antiquated three-story structure at the southeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 14th Street has been nearly emptied. No building permits have been issued yet, but some maintenance workers have told activists that the site is being readied for asbestos removal and interior demolition.

Critics from the community fear that the building will remain an empty eyesore until construction begins, but they haven’t gotten any answers. On December 12, U.S. Congressman Jerrold Nadler, State Senator Tom Duane, State Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and City Council members Christine Quinn and Rosie Mendez signed a letter to Kerrey requesting a meeting with New School officials, the local community board and neighborhood groups about the status of the building.

“We understand that the building is now almost completely empty yet there are no plans for its replacement,” they wrote. “We would like to know if the building will be maintained in this condition until the redevelopment plans are completed.”

Susan Kramer, founder of the Village Residents Alliance, said: “Our fear is that because of stalled financing [due to the economic downturn] or staff upheavals [over the no-confidence vote] at the New School, we’ll be left with an empty building, including empty retail frontage on 14th Street, which we’ve had for months already, or even worse, a hole in the ground with construction frozen midstream, while they figure out what’s up.”  

In a letter dated December 22, Kerrey responded that “the New School must proceed cautiously during this time of economic uncertainty,” adding that there has been no formulation of a “definite plan.” He wrote that “it makes good sense to have that building in a ‘ready’ condition, should circumstances permit construction. If circumstances change to permit construction, we would not want to be further delayed by the process of getting this building ready at that time.”  

He added: “If you think a meeting would be warranted at this time, understanding that there is no new information on the building, please feel free to call my office and arrange for a time.”

For
Kramer of Village Residents Alliance, the bunker mentality of the
school’s top brass, who reportedly shut off elevator access to the
floor containing high level administrative offices
, has led the school
to be even more tight-lipped than usual.

“Kerrey
and Murtha didn’t reach out to the community before the recent vote of
no confidence by the faculty,” she said. “Now they claim that they’re
happy to have a meeting but they have nothing to say.“