The owner of the struggling Pelham Bay Grand is reported in negotiations to sell the building to the city for new school space.
Councilman Jimmy Vacca said the School Construction Authority is in talks with billionaire Moujan Vahdat’s East 110th Street Realty LLC to buy the former Pelham Bay General Hospital at 1870 Pelham Parkway South at St. Paul Avenue.
Several incarnations to the building were considered but never took off, including a senior living facility and luxury apartments.
These days the building functions as a temporary supportive housing facility for Superstorm Sandy-ravaged residents from Queens.
But now a city Department of Education spokesman confirmed that discussions are underway, while Vacca added that they are still in the preliminary stages, with no deal “signed” or “sealed” just yet.
“The SCA is now in serious discussion with the owner of the Pelham Bay hospital building to use the building as an elementary school to relieve overcrowding at PS 71,” said Vacca. “These discussions have been taking place for several months. They are still discussions, and there are no conclusions.”
The purchase would be consistent with a city DOE five-year capital plan that calls for adding 375 new school seats in the Pelham Bay and Throggs Neck area, said Vacca.
He suggested the site to DOE and SCA officials about a year ago, but other locations around the area were also looked at, including some closer to PS 71 and PS 14, he said. In recent years, overutilizing of PS 71 has led to a reduction in enrollment for some kindergarten classes to accommodate upper grades.
But don’t expect to see any school at the building anytime very soon, said Vacca.
“They cautioned that if this does happen, it is not going to happen overnight, because the building would have to be totally renovated,” said Vacca. “
So you could be looking at two to three years until a school is brought in there.”
DOE’s interest in the Pelham Grand was news to Dr. Yves Ades, head of Services for the UnderServed, the nonprofit currently housing five dozen supportive housing tenants in the seven-story building while their Hurricane Sandy-damaged residence in Far Rockaway, Queens is being repaired.
Ades has said SUS expects to return to their newly repaired Queens residence as late as September this year.
“We’re still within the timeframe,” said Ades, adding it’s been relatively quiet since SUS settled into the Grand back in January.
A community advisory board has been formed to establish a conversation between the neighborhood folks and SUS staffers.
Initial reaction from community leaders to the idea of a elementary school at the location was cautious but positive.
“In this case, when [Councilman Vacca] said a grammar school, we said yes,” said Andrew Chirico, board member of the Waterbury-LaSalle Community Association. “This is one of the ideas we had for this building.”
Chirico said the community needs the school seats and this could alleviate pressure at PS 71, where mobile classrooms now take up part of the schoolyard.
Both he and Pelham Bay Taxpayers president Anita Valenti said that the idea of a school – as long as it is not a high school – would be a good choice for the location, as would senior housing.
“I think that an elementary school would be less of a problem than a high school,” said Valenti. “Someone will always object to anything that goes into that building. It is there and we have to deal with it.”
Valenti added that her first choice for the building would be senior housing, but a close second would be an elementary school.
Patrick Rocchio can be reach via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (718) 742-3393