Old-school charm meets community haven at PS 186 in Harlem

The renovated school on 145th Street is the new home of the Boys & Girls Club of Harlem and 78 units of affordable housing.

For decades, PS 186 in Harlem stood as a neighborhood blemish, a once beautiful building ravaged by time and the elements, with crumbling walls and trees growing inside.

“I used to walk on this block and not walk on this side,” longtime neighborhood resident Dominique R. Jones told Metro, referring to the abandoned school.

Today, something akin to its school days past has taken root inside the 115-year-old building. Instead of ‘readin’, ’ritin’ and ’rithmetic, though, it’s going to be STEM, smartboards and stylish affordable housing.

The renovated building on 145th Street is the new home of the Boys & Girl Club of Harlem (BGCH), which purchased the dilapidated property in 1986, as well as the Residences at PS 186 with 78 apartments for mostly low-income households.

“This is a total upgrade,” said Jones, the BGCH’s executive director. Since its inception in 1980, the club operated out of a 2,500-square-foot space on the fifth floor of the Convent Avenue Baptist Church on 144th Street. “What they gave us was really amazing for so many years, but this space will allow us to double the children we serve.”

The move to the first floor of PS 186 allows the club to double its membership to 1,000 and expand on its STEM (science, tech, engineering, math) programs with state-of-the-art amenities like Macs, 3-D printers, audio-visual equipment, a digital arts studio and more, thanks to grants and partners such as JCPenney Cares and Scholastic.

“They can actually use everything to explore the disciplines, not just as a utility,” Jones said. “Those are the tools that we’re using in the workforce, and we want kids to experience them so they’re ready.”


Despite taking three decades for the BGCH to make PS 186 its home, its board and staff never doubted the move would happen.

“They were very faithful and committed, waiting for the right moment and the right opportunity,” Jones said. “But they realized they would have to rethink how we approached it.”

The club ultimately partnered with Monadnock Development and Alembic Community Development “to think how to benefit the community at large,” Jones said.

The PS 186 project is part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 10-year housing plan to create 200,000 units of affordable housing in the five boroughs. There were 78,000 applicants in the city’s lottery for the 78 units in PS 186.

The units are comprised of 19 studios, 47 one bedrooms and 12 two bedrooms. The building’s stately interior and exterior character was preserved during the renovation, and its windows were reinforced with steel during construction because of the building’s long exposure to the elements. Many of the sizeable apartments Metro toured featured ample light through the large windows and high ceilings that harken back to their classroom past.

In addition to a video intercom system, laundry facility and bike storage space, a highlight of PS 186 is the Principal’s Landing on the fourth floor. The raised dais surrounded by wood where the school’s principal once welcomed students daily has been replicated into an elegant community space.

“It’s one thing to provide kids with opportunities and resources to learn and to grow, but it’s another thing to really support families and help stabilize communities,” Jones said. “I see (PS 186) as an anchor of the neighborhood.”

A spokesman for Monadnock Development agreed.

“It was a special formula that came together here,” he said. “Affordable housing shouldn’t be this sort of thing people feel ashamed about moving into. It should be somewhere they can live not just with dignity, but with pride.”

Watching the first residents move in after the two-year construction was “unbelievable,” he said.

“We have a tenant who had been in the shelter system for two years, and she’s now living in a beautiful apartment where she can pay for the rent, and she’s able to provide for her family.”

This article was originally published on Metro.us on Nov. 14, 2016. 

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