As Linton Frank, superintendent for A. Aleem Construction Inc., opened the door to the new boiler room at Harlem School of the Arts, a choral hymn echoed in the adjacent hallway. A cacophony of sound, led by pianos, French horns and violins, was capped off by the latest sound to fill the halls – the buzz of an electric drill.
The New York City Department of Design and Construction and M/WBE contractor A. Aleem Construction are currently closing out a $4.6 million project to upgrade the school’s ADA accessibility and improve its capacity to move heavy equipment, such as pianos and drum kits, via its freight elevator. The NYC Department of Cultural Affairs funded the project.
“This project ensures that the building maintains the capacity to meet the needs of its students, from its music rooms to visual arts studios and everything in between,” said DDC Acting Commissioner Ana Barrio. “We’re pleased to partner with the Department of Cultural Affairs to bring these upgrades to the Harlem School of the Arts, and I’m proud of our M/WBE division for playing an important role in the life of this project as well.”
“DDC’s M/WBE division was helpful to us in finding subcontractors and guiding us along the project,” said Project Manager Mashaun Frank. “We are located in Harlem, so it has been great to work with our neighbors here, just a few blocks north of our office. This is our first project with DDC and we look forward to more opportunities in the future.”
Founded by internationally-famed singer Dorothy Maynor in 1964, the Harlem School of the Arts originally opened in the basement of St. James Presbyterian Church in Harlem at a time when much of the neighborhood suffered from high levels of poverty and had limited access to cultural resources. Throughout the sixties and seventies, the school succeeded in empowering youth through performance art, music, dance, painting and more. In 1979 the school moved to its current location at 645 St. Nicholas Avenue.
The renovation upgrades much of the school’s infrastructure, including a complete replacement of the existing HVAC system, air ducts and boiler system. Four rooftop HVAC units were lifted by crane to ultimately sync and regulate the building’s air flow. Modifications were made to the school’s fire alarm system, and steel beams were installed to further fire proof the building. Restrooms were expanded and remodeled to comply with ADA regulations.
The project also includes the installation of a wheelchair lift, a handicapped accessible elevator that doubles as a freight elevator for heavy equipment and improvements to the ramp and main entrance that make the school more accessible. Lights were converted from standard to LED bulbs to reduce the building’s carbon footprint.
The relationship between Aleem and the DDC is managed by DDC’s Office of Diversity and Industry Relations, which develops, implements and monitors innovative policies and procedures to support minority and woman-owned business enterprises, as well as strengthen associations with industry partners.
Since 2015, DDC’s Office of Diversity & Industry Relations has engaged over 3,355 M/WBEs, either through direct outreach or at networking events. In that time, DDC has held more than 52 business development workshop sessions to help M/WBEs grow their businesses. More than 70% of all M/WBE contracts citywide are awarded through DDC, which has awarded over $1.7 billion in prime contracts to M/WBEs over the last 4 fiscal years.
The school was fully operational throughout the life of the project, which has taken 15 months to complete. Punch list items, such as the final installment of new tiles and new paint jobs, are the only items remaining. The school sits on a foundation of bluestone, a very hard metallic rock structure that proved difficult to work with early in the project.
“It took a lot to remove the bluestone. We broke jackhammers so that ultimately we could position new pipes and electrical units where we needed,” said Linton Frank, superintendent. “These unforeseen challenges made this job unique for us, but the whole time we kept in mind the benefits to the students and made sure that all students were safe during construction."