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Toxic Harlem'school Gets New Life As Condo

By Nicole Breskin

A 100-year old Harlem public school shuttered for thirty years because of asbestos contamination is undergoing a multi-million dollar makeover to become luxury condominiums by the end of next year.

P.S. 90, abandoned in 1978 when the city discovered toxic levels of asbestos in the building, had become a dumping ground for drug dealers in the neighborhood, a symbol of Harlem's darkest hours in previous decades.

But the six-story, historic building at 148th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. now has a new lease on life in the form of 75 luxury units-twenty of them reserved as affordable housing for local residents.

"The first step was to clean out the asbestos," said Mentor Haxnija, project manager for P.S. Condominiums. "It's very different now."

The massive beaux-arts building was originally built in 1905 by the city's chief architect for public schools Charles B. J. Snyder.

A century later, developers L+M Development Partners, working with the local housing advocacy group Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement (HCCI), came up with a plan to gut the interior of the building and turn the classrooms into units slated to cost between $450,000 for a studio to $1 million for a penthouse with a private balcony.

Crews did a full asbestos removal process starting in January 2008, and started the construction phase last November, officials said. They expect construction to be done by next spring, with the units slated to open by the end of 2010.

Under a deal with the city, developers set aside a portion of the units as affordable housing for area residents, made up of 10 studio and 10 one-bedroom apartments priced at about half the market rate.

"When a private developer receives city-owned property, there's usually a request from the city that it be affordable to residents in community," said Malcolm Punter, P.S. 90 property management director.

The lottery for affordable housing has already closed for submissions, Punter said. Applications are being considered now and local Community Board 10 residents get preference for the units, he said.

News of the latest luxury unit to spring up in Harlem attracted mixed reactions from area residents.

"I can't afford that kind of condo," said Albert Yrie, 41, "and I don't know anyone who can."

Yrie pays $500 a month for a one-bedroom apartment he shares with his wife and son-the most he can afford on his salary as an aide for mentally-disabled children.

He fears the new development, located directly across the street from his apartment, could soon force his family out of the neighborhood.

"P.S. 90 is not helping us, it is for wealthy people," Yrie said.

Other residents are more enthusiastic about the new development.

Lemelm Gaym owns the bodega on the corner of 148th Street and Frederick Douglass Blvd., where business has picked up since construction began.

"The builders come to my store now," said Gaym, 31, who lives a block from the store. "And hopefully the residents will later."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009