Promise Academy I is the largest school built for the Waiting for Superman documentary hero, Geoffrey Canada and his Harlem Children’s Zone® (HCZ) initiative. Inspired to change the odds for a community that historically had the least resources and most challenges, HCZ and partners developed a site for the project within the St. Nicholas Houses public housing development in central Harlem. In a rare example of collaboration between government, non-profit and private concerns, the HCZ successfully led city agencies and the larger community to create Promise Academy I.
With lottery preference given to children living in the St. Nicholas Houses, HCZ’s new LEED certified school building provides this community’s students with wrap-around services that include quality charter school education with over 50 classrooms, including art and music rooms, science and computer labs, a gymnasium/auditorium, and two libraries as well as access to after-school programs, healthcare, and free community programs. The school’s impact will extend to the families and all of the 3,000 residents of St. Nicholas. In addition to having 24-hour-security, the building will be open during the evenings and weekends where residents may take classes — from Zumba to GED.
The light, neutral shades of the exterior materials of the building are a fresh contrast to the surrounding institutional 14-story red brick residences. Close collaboration between Ciardullo Associates and the fabricators of the unitized aluminum rain screen system on the upper floors allowed for the rapid enclosure of the building envelop. With off-site fabrication of the panels scheduled concurrently to the erection of the superstructure, major construction activities on the densely residential site were reduced. A progressive two-toned stacked bond brick pattern on the lower level and the bold colors of the curtain-wall frame and entry canopy create a lively streetscape to the newly re-opened 129th Street. Closed-off in the 1950’s to create a “super block” for the housing project, 129th street had become a dead-end. Restoring the fabric of the city grid has re-integrated the isolated development with the surrounding community.
The HCZ’s objective, to break the cycle of generational poverty in central Harlem by helping Harlem’s children to succeed in school, is an ambitious goal. The addition of the school and community center to this marginalized neighborhood in NYC is a positive change, a promise to the next generation