Medgar Evers College, in the southwestern corner of Crown Heights, is in expansion mode.
In 2004, it opened a building at the corner of Bedford Avenue and Carroll Street. And then again in 2010, it opened what it calls Academic Building I, on the northwestern corner of Bedford and Crown Street. It holds the School of Science, Health and Technology, among other things, and while it cost a quarter of a billion dollars, the result is arguably the nicest new building in Crown Heights.
And now, the CUNY school has turned its sights to the southwestern corner of Bedford and Crown, where it’s rehabbing a red brick post-modern building from the late 1980s that houses its library and suffers from an unfortunate lack of windows.
“The project,” reads a sign on the construction fencing, “expands existing library square footage by integrating previously unused lower level storage, adds a new Welcome Center and improves internal circulation by connecting disjoined floorplates. New floor plan layouts include upgraded classrooms, group study rooms and student study spaces.”
The centerpiece of the $11 million renovation by ikon.5 Architects is a much-needed glassy entryway, featuring “a cafe with a full-height electronic media display, terrazzo floor, and bamboo-clad entry.” The project should give the building a more welcoming face, without the expense of tearing down a structure that’s still functional.
While Medgar Evers’s growth is adding to the neighborhood, the southwestern corner of Crown Heights will never truly be a truly welcoming place to its residents and students until the land on and around Empire Boulevard is filled in.
The border with Prospect Lefferts Gardens is currently a no-man’s land. Ebbets Field’s old neighborhood is now composed of enormous post-war apartment towers, government (mostly educational) uses, and auto-oriented commercial space. The area’s C8-2 zoning doesn’t even pretend to accommodate industrial uses – self-storage, gas stations, auto body shops and suburban-style fast food places are all you get.
To make the area more attractive for those who live and work there, Empire Boulevard and the empty lots and low-slung buildings around Medgar Evers should be rezoned for more productive residential uses, with a commercial overlay to accommodate ground-floor retail. A road diet and some trees for Empire Boulevard, where a ghost bike bakes in the sun on the corner of Bedford Avenue, would also help.
In the meantime, Medgar Evans’ continued expansion is a definite positive, and shows that the neighborhood is capable of building better and more attractive buildings; now, it just needs the appropriate zoning to meet its true potential.
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