Just search for “Visitation School” on Google, and you’ll find bright red letters reminding you it’s permanently closed.
After 85 years, the classrooms at the West 239th Street school emptied one last time, and its adjoining church was merged with St. John Church on Kingsbridge Avenue.
But what’s next for this site? During a recent town hall, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz shot down rumors the property was bought by nearby Manhattan College, and expressed hope that Rome would sell the site to the education board for a much-needed school.
Such plans couldn’t come soon enough for Gene Binder.
“There is a need for space to combat overcrowding in District 10,” said Binder, a member of the activist group Concerned Citizens for Change, and a retired teacher. “I don’t know about numbers in specific schools in the district, but I know there are overcrowded schools in this district.”
A published report in 2015 agrees with Binder, calling District 10 — which covers nearly 80 schools in this part of the Bronx — the most overcrowded with 5,000 students too many filling public hallways.
That’s why the Visitation site is so important to lawmakers like Dinowitz. Found just south of Van Cortlandt Park between Broadway and the Major Deegan Expressway, the school finds itself in what Dinowitz calls the “four corners” — school zones that include P.S. 360 on Kingsbridge Terrace, P.S. 7 Milton Fein on Kingsbridge Avenue, P.S. 207 on Godwin Terrace, and P.S. 95 Sheila Mencher on Hillman Avenue.
Most, if not all, of those schools have some sort of overcrowding issues, and a new school at the Visitation site could really make a difference, Dinowitz said.
The problem? It doesn’t seem like the Roman Catholic Church is ready to sell quite yet. When that might actually happen is anyone’s guess — the Archdiocese of New York did not return a request for comment.
“That location is so perfectly situated to help 95, to help (P.S.) 81, to help 7 — some of the most overcrowded schools in the district,” Councilman Andrew Cohen said at a town hall meeting near the site at the Amalgamated Houses last month. “That actual site hasn’t been, I forget what the actual word is, decommissioned by the church yet. And in order for that to happen, they have to go to Rome. So it is in process, and I don’t know how long it’s going to take.
“There’s no deal with the DOE to actually build a school there, but I think that is our vision, to ultimately build an education campus to help deal with the severe overcrowding of our existing public schools.”
Such efforts, however, couldn’t come soon enough for Yair Ben-Zaken, who runs S&S Cheesecake on West 238th Street nearby, and is a father himself.
“No one’s going to pay attention in a big class,” he said. “There is a disadvantage. But with small classes, it’s usually more hands-on and better for the kids.”
And even beyond that, having a school or anything on that site is better than nothing. At least from a safety standpoint, said Narsinh Desai, owner of neighboring Desai’s Pharmacy. His great niece attends Amber Charter School on Corlear Avenue.
“It’s a nice and safe location,” Desai said. A school would make it better.
“It would be nice to have, and I’d feel better about parking my car around there.