HARLEM — Yankees slugger Mark Teixeira traded his baseball bat for a shovel Thursday morning to break ground on a new $78.5 million school and affordable housing complex in East Harlem.
Teixeira led the fundraising push for the project alongside nonprofit Harlem RBI, which runs activities like baseball clinics to help inner-city youth.
"We are doing everything we can to make sure these kids have the opportunity to become the leaders of tomorrow," Teixeira added.
Called the East Harlem Center for Living and Learning, the new building on 104th Street between Second and Third avenues, on what used to be a parking lot for the New York City Housing Authority's Washington Houses, will become home to DREAM Charter School as well as 89 units of affordable housing developed by Jonathan Rose Companies.
Harlem RBI, which provides 1,200 kids with year-round services, will also have 6,000 square feet of office space in the structure.
The Yankees first baseman pledged $1 million to the project and helped to raise another $9 million. The city's Department of Education contributed $32.5 million.
Harlem RBI Executive Director Rich Berlin said fundraising for the project began at the worst possible time in 2008, just after the collapse of Bear Stearns and the start of the Wall Street crisis. But that didn't stop the project, said Rep. Charles Rangel.
"Good people came together and someone said, 'What about the kids?'" Rangel said.
The plan worked so well that Harlem RBI is now expanding its services to Mott Haven in the South Bronx, focusing on the Paterson Houses, Berlin said.
The project is an example of NYCHA's new policy of tapping underutilized land on its sites to generate revenue to make up for federal under-funding and to pay for repairs to its aging infrastructure.
NYCHA Chairman John Rhea said the strategy is intertwined with the future of public housing not just in New York City but across the country. In Central Harlem, Harlem Children's Zone is building a $100 million school on the grounds of St. Nicholas Houses.
The DREAM Charter School will set aside 50 percent of the seats in the new building for children in Washington Houses, and 20 percent of the affordable housing units will be filled by people on NYCHA's waiting list.
"We have done something today that Mark [Teixeira] does regularly. We have knocked this completely out of the park," Rhea said.
Construction on the building is expected to take 18 months. It will be energy efficient and will also feature a green roof, communal terrace and outdoor learning lab for DREAM students. The adjacent Blake Hobbs Park will also be completely renovated.
DREAM Charter School fifth-grader Jose Cruz said he was excited about the project.
"I can't wait to see my new school," he said.