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Feb. 15, 2013

East Harlem Center for Living and Learning Breaks Ground

By Jeffrey Steele, Contributing Writer

New York—Ground has been broken on East Harlem Center for Living and Learning, a new 151,000-square-foot mixed-use development to offer 88 affordable apartments, a 58,000-square-foot K-8 charter school and more than 6,000 square feet of office space to be used by not-for-profit organizations.

The groundbreaking ceremonies brought together officials representing the project’s key participants, including the New York City Housing Authority, New York City Housing Development Corporation, New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the New York City Department of Education, as well as Jonathan Rose Companies and Harlem RBI. The New York Yankees’ Mark Teixeira, a Harlem RBI board member, also attended.

The 11-story-tall, 80,000-square-foot affordable housing tower will feature 18 studios, 41 one-bedroom units, 25 two-bedroom apartments and four three-bedroom apartment homes, as well as a superintendent’s unit. Households earning less than 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), which currently is $49,800 for a family of four, are eligible to reside in the new community.

The development will incorporate many sustainable features, among them energy-efficient boilers, low-VOC paint, low-“e” windows and use of low-emitting, recycled and locally produced materials.

“This is a green building that reduces energy costs, and that makes a huge difference to low-income families,” says Jonathan Rose, president of Jonathan Rose Companies. “By providing much healthier environments, this building will help reduce the incidence of asthma. Kids without asthma perform better in school and experience fewer sick days.”

The East Harlem Center for Living and Learning is “a bigger, bolder and better step” forward for Harlem RBI, says the organization’s executive director Rich Berlin. Harlem RBI is an organization that began in 1991 when it turned a trash-strewn lot in in East Harlem into two baseball fields for neighborhood youth.

Today, the organization serves more than 1,200 young people ages 5 to 22, providing them year-round academic, sports and enrichment programs.

The East Harlem Center for Living and Learning will be the new site of Harlem RBI’s DREAM Charter School, founded in 2008 to prepare students for high-performing high schools and colleges by means of rigorous academic programs.

“Harlem RBI started as an after-school baseball program, then started doing tutoring and realized they needed a school,” Rose says. “There’s such a need for affordable housing in New York City, and the real issue is finding good sites. The New York City Housing Authority was approached with the idea of building a school, and they said we want affordable housing [at the site] as well. That expanded the program to include both a school and affordable housing.”

The complexity of the project was a critical challenge for the participants, Berlin says. “There’s a school, a non-profit space, low-income housing and a park, with each partner having their own set of bankers and lawyers, in addition to the city agencies,” he reports. “There were a lot of people to keep happy. Luckily, everyone kept their eyes on the prize, and focused on the benefits this building would bring to East Harlem, and made it happen.”

Rose believes coordinating the funding from multiple sources was a key hurdle. “But we had a school agency and a public housing agency that both wanted to get something done, so even with the complications, there was such good will on all sides to work together to make a difference,” he says.

Berlin envisions that once the new development is complete, a child will be able to walk just a few steps from her apartment into a world-class education at DREAM Charter School, then enjoy some softball with Harlem RBI after school.

On weekends, she may play at Blake Hobbs Park with her family. “All around her there will be caring adults and peers, an entire community helping to secure her success,” he says. “For the East Harlem community, and I think any community, it’s a benefit for people to enjoy a multi-generational, multi-ethnic co-existence. There is so much beauty and culture in East Harlem. My hope is that the East Harlem Center for Living and Learning will contribute to that.”

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