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Former Harlem School Now Clubhouse for Kids After Sitting Decades Empty

By Dartunorro Clark | October 20, 2016 5:50pm
 Students study at the new Boys and Girls Club clubhouse at the Residences at P.S. 186 on West 145th Street.
Students study at the new Boys and Girls Club clubhouse at the Residences at P.S. 186 on West 145th Street.
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DNAinfo/Dartunorro Clark

HARLEM — For decades, the venerable H-shaped, five-story building on West 145th Street in Hamilton Heights had sat vacant.

In its heyday — the early-to-mid 1900s when it was P.S. 186 — it was considered the “architectural and academic pride of the community.” Harlem icon and singer Harry Belafonte was a student there at one point.  

But it was shuttered in the 1970s and the city moved the school elsewhere.

The Boys and Girls Club of Harlem purchased the building in the late 1980s but was unable to get the funds needed to transform it despite help from the nearby Convent Avenue Baptist Church, whose members raised funds but fell short of what was needed.

A space in the church instead became the de facto clubhouse for the club while they tried to find a way to make the empty building work.

So for about 40 years, the P.S. 186 building has sat vacant waiting to be transformed into a clubhouse for kids as it slowly eroded.

However, on Thursday community members and a slew of elected officials were among hundreds in attendance to marvel at what the building had now become.

“Many of us never thought this day would come,” said Dominque Jones, the executive director of the Harlem club. 

“I had written this building off as a dream deferred.”

Since 2007, the club has worked with a number of partners, including the city and Monadnock Construction — which was part of the development team — to secure funds for its renovation.

The end result was not only a haven for Harlem youth to study and engage in a number of activities, with a multimedia lab and a tutoring center, but 79 units of affordable housing for the Hamilton Heights community. 

The club will also double its membership to 1,000 kids served, the organization said. 

The cost of the renovations totaled roughly $48 million. The city shelled out tax incentives, $20 million in tax credits and $6 million in subsidies.

All of the affordable housing lottery winners have now moved into the apartments, officials said.

Rene Brown, a current tenant, said she lucked out winning the lottery to have a place for her and her two children.

“A couple of years ago, I could not pay my rent and ended up in the shelter system,” Brown said. “I applied and all I could do is hope and here I am today."