The former Liberty Street School is currently under construction and remediation, seeking to be reopened in Spring 2024 as a new community creative center that includes artist and entrepreneurial studios, production and film spaces/stages and spaces for galleries and community gatherings. Since closing in 1980, it has been over four decades since it’s been occupied or used.
The Liberty Street School building today, located at 1 Liberty Street, sits at the corner of Liberty and Renwick Street with Liberty Street leading into the Washington Heights neighborhood up the hill, known more commonly as The Heights today.
The school, reported by City Historian Mary McTamaney, was built in 1891 and was Newburgh’s sixth grammar school. The designation of the school is still noted in carvings above the entryway. The school served as an academic institution for the families, new and old, that lived in the southern part of the city. Frank Estabrook is credited as the architectural mind behind the design of the school building as well as the Broadway School built in 1908. The Broadway School now serves as the City Courthouse.
The school would finally close its doors in 1980 and with the closure, students would be sent to continue their education at the other various schools in the city. After the closure of the school, the building remained vacant for decades and fell into disrepair.
The Liberty Street School today is now under construction and remediation after it was purchased by RipRap LLC, which is owned and managed by Thomas Burr Dodd and his wife Pearl Son-Dodd. With the school, RipRap are looking to “transform it into a multi-use creative space, giving attention to historic preservation as well as modern green building practices.”
The school building itself, which is within the East End Historic District, is listed on the New York State and National Registers of Historic Places. The project is also supported by State and Federal Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits.
With the project concept for the building shared to Facebook by another alumni of the school, Brian Denniston, alumni and others interested have shared photos and expressed support for the project.
Over the course of several hours on the afternoon of Friday, October 27, alumni from the Liberty Street School made their way to the building and were able to take part in an interview series as part of a larger film to document the history of the school. The project is titled “Saving The Liberty Street School” and is being directed by Jessica Gohlke. Denniston and Dodd will serve as executive producers of the project.
Alumni Dominick Denisi, who attended from 1955/56 through 1962, shared in his interview for the project that he lived only three blocks away and remembered walking to school growing up. “There was all these shops and stores along and there was a lot of pedestrian traffic. The playground was that asphalt area on the side of the school, that was our playground,” he said.
He also recalled some of the features of the school that offered the opportunity for some fun. “There was a fire escape, which was, like, a shape, like a silo and it was attached to the windows. And if you slipped down, it was like a circular slide,” he said.
During his second grade year, Denisi recalled that the children of the school were brought to a new wing addition at that time of the old South Junior High School, as the school building during that time to his recollection was being remodeled during that year.
When the school closed, Denisi had already been living out of the area but returning to Newburgh to take care of his mother, he saw the difficult condition that the school was in as years went by. With the project concept shared to Facebook, Denisi took the opportunity to come and learn more about the project. He hopes to see his former school restored, calling it a “beautiful building”.
Similar to Denisi, Davina Keeno, who attended from 1968 to 1973, had the opportunity to come by the school and be interviewed about her time while attending. As she walked up the steps, she said she had many memories rushing back to her about her time attending the school.
Like Denisi, she also had fond memories of growing up in the city and attending as a student. “It was just a beautiful time, this was the 60’s,” she said. “I know, times have changed over the years and stuff but you know, it was just a wonderful time for families.”
Like Denisi, Keeno was not in the area at the time of the school closure but was equally sad to hear it closed and learn about its neglect. Now with a space that promotes and encourages creativity and expression, it is a welcomed endeavor.
“There’s not enough resources and safe places and places for people to go for the arts, for culture, for anything like that,” she said. “It’s so vital and so needed, and the fact that he’s [Dodd] doing this, it’s just wonderful and that he’s even opened it [the school] up for alumni to come through and tour the building and everything, it’s just amazing.”
Even with accessibility to a space that offers opportunities to the community, preservation is as equally as important in this project, Keeno expressed. “There’s not enough of people wanting to preserve and remember where they came from, remember those roots,” she said. “I really think that’s important.”
For those who are working on the building itself, like Troy Williams, who has been working with Dodd over the past year and a half on the project, he is hopeful to see the building reopen soon.
Even as one who has had experience in construction work, working on a historical building has been a learning experience for him and he has gained more knowledge on its history and overall restoration.
Originally from the Westchester-Yonkers area, Williams shared he personally did not have opportunities, an outlet growing up to express himself and work with music, which he enjoys.
Knowing the vision of the space through Dodd, the building as a safe environment for kids of the city neighborhoods to be able to branch out and express themselves, gain employment or come to safely gather is a hope Williams wants to see come true when the work is done.
“I feel like, strongly, this would be a great hub for the kids/teens and adults,” he said. “ It’s heavy on my heart to like, get this up and running because I as a kid didn’t have an outlet, somewhere safe to go. This will be a safe haven.”
Project updates and history have been also shared to the company website at www.riprapllc.com/ps6. A Facebook page titled “Save the Liberty Street School” is also available for public updates and knowledge on the project.