By Jon Schuppe
EAST HARLEM — After years of delays, the residents of the James Weldon Johnson Houses in East Harlem could soon be able to use a new community center they hope will alleviate youth violence in the neighborhood.
The New York City Housing Authority has told residents and local officials that it plans to finally open the expanded and renovated facility at the housing complex on Lexington Avenue at 115th Street by spring.
The promise came after residents and East Harlem officials complained to NYCHA representatives at a meeting on youth violence last month.
The center, residents said, is supposed to be one of the things keeping kids off the streets.
The stakes are high at Johnson, where a local crew of kids has been clashing with a rival group from the nearby Taft Houses, officials said.
"All we can do is wonder what’s taking so long," said Toniasia Malloy, a 21-year-old resident who has watched the construction for more than two years. "Everyone’s eager to see what’s going on inside."
The 21,500-square-foot project combines a children’s center with a larger community center and includes classrooms, a meeting room, arts space, gym, kitchen and offices. From the outside, it appears to be completed.
East Harlem officials say the center was originally conceived about nine years ago, and construction began a few years later.
At one point, NYCHA set an opening date for last summer, officials said. But that deadline came and went.
Community Board 11 Chairman Matthew Washington said the delays have been frustrating.
"Nothing’s been done about it, and (the project) needs to move forward," he said.
A NYCHA spokeswoman blamed the delays on a subpar contractor who had to be replaced. Construction was finished in January 2010, except for minor "punch list" items that should be completed by next month, she said. After that, all that remains is getting the necessarily approvals from the Department of Buildings.
"We share in the community's eagerness to open the doors of the Johnson Houses Community Center and Day Care Center and we are doing everything in our power to ensure that this happens as soon as possible," the spokeswoman said in an e-mail.