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State money is saving grace for historic Brooklyn schoolhouse

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A historic but dilapidated schoolhouse in the heart of Brooklyn that has been falling into disrepair for years because of neglect by the city’s Department of Education could have a new lease on life thanks to an infusion of state money.

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has awarded a $300,000 matching grant for the restoration of the landmarked original Erasmus Hall Academy, a 225-year-old Federal style building nestled in the courtyard of Erasmus Hall High School, at Flatbush and Church avenues.

The grant was awarded after the New York Landmarks Conservancy took up the cause of the wooden schoolhouse, the second oldest secondary school in the country, which had basically been abandoned by Education officials because the space within it could no longer be used for classrooms.

The Conservancy must now raise its own $300,000 to secure the state money and begin repair work on the structure.

It’s estimated that about $2.7 million would be needed to completely restore the building and do necessary structural repairs. But, said Dan Keefe, a spokesman for the state parks office, $600,000 would pay for work to stabilize the building.

“It’s enough for the restoration of the exterior envelope of the academy and to prevent further water damage,” Keefe said.

Despite its leaking roof, the schoolhouse is actually in fairly good shape, given its age and mien of neglect.

“It’s structurally sound after all these years,” said Peg Breen, the president of the Landmarks Conservancy. “There’s plenty to do, but it’s eminently doable.”

That’s music to the ears of Flatbush activists who have been fighting for the restoration of the school.

“This is great,” said Marshall Tames, who taught at Erasmus and is currently athletic director there. Tames had raised the alarm about the state of the building four years ago. “It’s a historic place and has to be preserved.”

In its current state, he added, the building has been the target of snowballs. A couple of weeks ago he saw junior high school kids aiming them at the building, unaware of its rich legacy.

“I explained to them about its history, and told them that the building matters,” he said.

What the building will be used for once restoration is complete is still up in the air, and up to Education officials to decide.

But, used it will be, Breen said.

“We are of the if-you-restore-it-they-will-come school,” she added.

By press time, Education officials had not returned a call requesting comment.

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