Villager photo by Lincoln Anderson
Kim Barton with a binder containing architectural plans for his proposed Tower School at the old P.S. 64 on E. Ninth.
Not dorm tower, but Tower School pitched on E. 9th
By Lincoln Anderson
Kimber “Kim” Barton has a lifetime of experience in education coupled with a vision for the future: He hopes to transform the vacant old P.S. 64 on E. Ninth St. into the Tower School, a 600-student, nonprofit, independent school that could open next fall.
Barton said the name “Tower” doesn’t refer to one physically being added to the turn-of-the-century building, but rather to New York City itself and its defining skyline.
“It says the city to me,” he said. “To me, it’s New York — the excitement of New York.”
Ironically, the building’s owner, Gregg Singer, had wanted to add a 23-story tower to the site — to create an East Village megadorm — but his plans were shot down by the city and courts.
Singer purchased the formerly city-owned building at auction in 1998 for $3.15 million, but has been unable to capitalize on it since, in the face of staunch community and political opposition to his various schemes.
Prior to the tower plan, at one point, Singer reportedly had tried to turn the distinguished old structure into a Banana Bungalow youth hostel. But community activists — who want the building returned to its former use as a community center — scared off potential tenants.
Four years ago, the building was landmarked, further limiting Singer’s development options. In a vain effort to overturn the designation, he then used a pre-existing demolition permit to hack off the building’s historic exterior details.
According to Barton, the old P.S. 64 is up for sale but also being offered for long-term lease with an option to buy. He’s been talking with representatives at HelmsleySpear, the property’s broker.
“They’re asking for $40 million to sell it,” Barton said. “They started at $60 million a few years ago.”
Barton said he would try to negotiate the price down, given that the building is nothing more than a gutted space at this point and needs to be completely fitted out. While the building’s top floor was once packed with pigeon guano, Barton — who has been looking at the building for the past several years — attested that it’s now all “clean as a whistle.”
Told by The Villager that the building sold for a mere $3.15 million 12 years ago, he laughed and just shook his head incredulously.
“It’s not worth what they’re asking for,” he said. “It’s totally empty. Forty million, 50 million [dollars] — that’s outrageous.”
Actually, Barton previously had his eyes set on the former Gateway School building at Second Ave. and 14th St., since its interior is in great shape. But he had a deadline of June 1 to make a deal, and wasn’t ready. Barton said that building’s owner wants to sell for $12.5 million.
Barton has zero funds right now. As for getting a lease for the old P.S. 64, he said he needs to raise at least $3 million to $4 million “to even think about it.”
“I’m hoping there’s an angel somewhere,” he said. “At this point, any gift is a good gift.”
Assuming he got a lease for the old P.S. 64, his next step would be to go for tax-exempt bonds to outfit it as a school, which he figures would cost $35 million.
He said the HelmsleySpear representatives said they’d let him lease the space for six or seven years with an option to buy.
Barton noted he heard Singer had an offer for the building that he was looking to close on, but that it fell apart about two or three months ago.
He said he hasn’t been able to speak to Singer directly, and that HelmsleySpear wouldn’t even tell him Singer’s name.
“They said it was a consortium of owners, some as far away as California — but he’s the main guy,” Barton said.
A Kansas City native, Barton, 74, has a long résumé in education, starting in 1958 as a teacher/coach at Homewood Jr. High School in Birmingham, Al. He was the head of school at St. Mary’s and St. Paul’s parochial school in Garden City, Long Island, from 1989 to 1991, when the archdiocese closed it. He was director of finance for Brooklyn Friends School from 1998 to 2000, and at Lycée Français on the Upper East Side from 2000 to 2003.
Most recently, he was director of finance at City and Country School — a kindergarten-to-eighth-grade school — on W. 13th St. in Greenwich Village.
In an article in March in Town & Village newspaper, Millie Rivera, director of student services and diversity at City and Country School, called Barton a “wonderful leader” and “a people person concerned about people.”
Barton said he’s moved around a lot from school to school over his career, because when he was younger he had four children to support and needed better-paying jobs. But he also calls himself an “education brat,” similar to an Army brat.
“I like change,” he said.
Now he wants to leave something enduring, he said, hopefully a new independent school in the East Village.
“Before I die, I would like to make a mark — leave something positive for children,” he said.
Although he would be embarking on this project late in life, he said he’d have a younger person as co-director, who would be able “to pick up the ball.”
Starting tuition would be $18,700, which parents could “lock in” for all their children’s years at the school, which would run from age 3 to high school. Barton called this price affordable, compared to other private schools where tuitions can range from $24,000 up to $32,000.
Since it would be nonprofit — as most private schools are — revenues would go back into the building and into financial aid.
Barton dislikes charter schools, feeling they have many built-in problems. Plus, he said, charters are “the darling” of foundations right now, getting the lion’s share of foundation funding, making it tougher for independent schools to get funds.
“I would draw [students] from the whole city,” he said, calling the building’s location, off Tompkins Square Park at Avenue B, “terrific.”
The neighborhood can use another private school, he said, noting the nearest one is Friends Seminary in Gramercy.
He’s had an architect draw up detailed plans for the classic “H”-style (when viewed from above) E. Ninth St. school building. These include restoring the old school’s theater, but also adding a gym below it. The school would be broken down into four age divisions, with each division getting its own floor.
If Barton got the building, the theater would be open to the community and for Off-Broadway shows, he promised.
“We’d really like to be involved in the community, absolutely,” he said. “The theater has a history. Oh my God, Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke from that stage,” he noted.
Basically, since it was built as a school, the old P.S. 64 would be “perfect” to house a new one, he said.
Nine years ago, Singer evicted CHARAS/El Bohio, the longstanding community and cultural center, from the building. Community activists who have been fighting Singer not only want the building restored as a community center, but for CHARAS to have a home in it. But Barton basically has the whole building mapped out for use as the Tower School.
Asked if he would be willing to provide space to CHARAS, he conceded, “If they wanted one classroom as a place for offices or headquarters, I could do that.”
He said he’s tried to reach out to City Councilmember Rosie Mendez, so far without success.
Asked about Barton’s plan for the old P.S. 64, Mendez, said, “I don’t think that’s the wish the community had,” adding, “It’s not really up to me. It’s a collective decision” of the community.
A call to Singer’s office was answered by an assistant who said Singer wouldn’t be able to respond.