East New York

Once-dilapidated East NY courthouse now aims to bring cops and neighbors closer

One local rep calls it a “great day” for the neighborhood. But another says it's just a “cosmetic” fix.

October 24, 2019 Noah Goldberg
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The NYPD opened up a first-of-its-kind community center in East New York on Wednesday, revamping an old, stone magistrates’ court building that had long been overlooked and fallen into disrepair — but on Wednesday night was sparkling new, much to the delight of community members.

The building at 127 Pennsylvania Ave. served as the meeting spot and office space for East New York’s Community Board 5 for more than 40 years, until renovations began in late 2016. Older community board members who recall the old meeting spot remembered what it was like before the renovations.

“It was a dilapidated building — asbestos filled, the air was bad. There was no air conditioning. We used to try to conduct business in this space right here,” said Vincent Riggins, a community board member. “You can’t even imagine the horrible conditions before.”

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The windows were broken or mud-caked. The lighting was poor. The marble walls were cracked. The ceiling paint was peeling and chipped. There were leaks. It was an uninviting space that board members weren’t excited to enter. They warned of asbestos and lead peeling, but the city denied it until the renovations began, Riggins said.

Construction was not entirely without hitch either. New pipes had to be installed, but during construction, somebody broke onto the construction site and stole the new pipes out of the walls, causing water damage. The city had to buy new pipes. The building was supposed to be fully renovated by the end of 2017, according to Gotham Gazette

“Deplorable. Deplorable,” Riggins said of the conditions at the building before the renovation. “But we were committed to serving the community, so that’s why we showed up every meeting.”

Now the marble walls are unmarred — and they are original marble from the old building, whose cornerstone was lain in 1929. Where cracks existed in the walls in the atrium, the city replaced it with marble from the bathrooms, Councilmember Rafael Espinal told the Brooklyn Eagle. “It’s a great day for East New York,” he said.

East New York Councilmember Rafael Espinal speaks at the first community board meeting at the renovated building at 127 Pennsylvania Ave. Eagle photo by Noah Goldberg

The building has a new basketball gym, a dance studio, a music studio and a weight-lifting room.

It was renovated as part of the East New York Neighborhood Plan, the first neighborhood rezoning approved under the de Blasio administration — in 2016 — that promised over $200 million in capital investments as well as 1,200 new “deeply affordable” apartments in the historically underfunded neighborhood. Espinal ushered the rezoning through the council.

Many in the neighborhood feared — and still do fear — that rezoning could mean gentrification in one of Brooklyn’s more affordable areas.

“We’re still trying to figure out the ramifications of the whole East New York Neighborhood plan. Was it a blessing or a curse?” said Albert Scott, a community board member.

“The East New York Neighborhood Plan was a very comprehensive plan to deal with a lot of the socioeconomic and environmental issues the community has dealt with for a very long time,” Espinal said.

The project to renovate the building was allocated $10 million in the rezoning, after community board members insisted the building not be overlooked.

“We wanted this building back online. Everybody was ready to write it off,” Riggins said.

One of the main goals of the redesign goes beyond the $10 million investment in the edifice itself: The building is now run by the NYPD. The hope is that it can serve as a locus for positive interactions between cops and community members in a predominantly black and Latinx neighborhood.

“While crime is at a record low in New York City, there is still more work to do to ensure that every New Yorker feels safe in their neighborhood,” said Mayor de Blasio in a statement. “This new community center will strengthen the bond between community and police, which will ultimately help make East New York and our city safer.”

Community Board 5 members wait to get into the building before the monthly meeting. Eagle photo by Noah Goldberg

The NYPD will run “educational, recreational and social programming for young people aged 12 to 19” out of the building. About a dozen cops milled about the building Wednesday night. Usually at CB5 meetings, there are one or two officers.

East New York’s other councilmember, Inez Barron, is not so sure about the partnership between NYPD and the community.

A line snaked out the door of the building Wednesday night as police at the door checked identification of people entering for the community board meeting and signed them in. At most Community Board 5 meetings, no identification is required.

“People were told the IDs they presented were not sufficient. I got problems with that. First of all this is an open meeting, anyone should be allowed to come in, whatever they have,” Barron said. “My staffer had City Council ID and she was told that was not sufficient.”

Barron is a fierce critic of the NYPD’s treatment of black and brown communities.

“The day-to-day interactions between NYPD and people in our community are less than stellar, less than what they might be in terms of the respect that needs to be accorded to the citizens that are here,” Barron told the Eagle. “I think these are cosmetic fixes. I don’t think they get to the essence of what makes NYPD operate as it does.”

That said, aesthetically, she’s a fan.

“It’s very much a nice cosmetic fix,” Barron added.

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