Big Red School House

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For the first time in the four years since Bronx residents and some local elected officials first asked the city to open badly-needed elementary and middle schools in the long underused Kingsbridge Armory, City Hall officials are considering the idea.

Members of Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition (NWBCC) say that in a meeting they had with Deputy Mayor Daniel L. Doctoroff last week, he said he would bring their proposal to the Board of Education for review.

“In past meetings, they listened to our proposals, said, ‘That’s great, that’s wonderful,’ and then, ‘This is what we’re doing,'” said Ronn Jordan, a coalition board member who attended the meeting, referring to former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s plans to develop the armory as a mall and sports and entertainment complex. “That wasn’t the case today. At least this administration has given us sufficient thought and heard what we’re going to say.”

The armory, the largest in the country with over 500,000 square feet, has sat nearly empty for eight years, ever since the National Guard moved out. Its last tenant, a women’s homeless shelter, closed shop in 2000.

Proposals to reuse the space have been floated, and failed, for years. Mayor Michael Bloomberg did not do anything to push forward his predecessor’s plan.

The coalition, made up of community residents and organizers, remains determined to fill the building with two or three schools to help alleviate the overcrowding in School District 10. The group’s plan also calls for some retail space, an event and athletic facility, and possibly a small multiplex movie theater to help sustain the complex financially.

The mayor’s office did not return calls seeking comment. But Jordan said that Doctoroff did leave them with one challenge: Get Bronx leaders fully behind the idea.

Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion says he supports putting at least one school in the armory, but he does not back the coalition’s full proposal. “I think it misses the opportunity to create a boost for the local economy,” he said.

Other proposals on the table, said Carrion, include one from Basketball City, which operates some indoor courts just north of Chelsea Piers in Manhattan. One idea that is out: a film studio, which the city Economic Development Corporation recently rejected.