By Gabriela Resto-Montero
EAST HARLEM — Weeds and trash currently crowd the yard of P.S. 109, an abandoned school that sits on E.99th Street, between Third and Second avenues.
Despite its dilpadiated facade, the school moved closer to becoming what planners hope will be the artistic jewel of El Barrio as a residence and work space for local artists this week with a $1 million grant from the Ford Foundation.
Planners estimate the P.S. 109 project will cost $52 million.
Although today the five-story building stands locked behind a rusted gate, it was used as a local school until 1995.
Residents in the neighborhood succeeded in stopping the city from demolishing the structure, which was built in 1898, but plans for new uses for the building lagged.
In 2006, El Barrio’s Operation Fightback, a non-profit focusing on providing affordable housing, teamed up with Artspace, a Minneapolis-based non-profit that develops real estate for artists, to propose turning the building into a combination residential and work area.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed the plan and made the transformation of P.S. 109 part of the City Hall 2030 plans.
Under the agreement, 50 percent of the 72 housing units will be reserved for East Harlem Residents. The rest of the building will serve as offices and workrooms for groups specializing in the arts.
In total, the Foundation granted $100 million to organizations around the country in an effort to preserve artist's spaces in a difficult economy.