By Gregg McQueen
HSA has long been in the business of dreams.
Founded in 1964 by concert soprano Dorothy Maynor, HSA was intended to give local children access to cultural programs at a time when few options existed in Harlem, which was beset with municipal neglect and high poverty.
And over a half-century later, the institution is now fulfilling a long-held vision of its own.
It has launched a massive renovation – The Renaissance Project – that will completely transform the look of the school.
The $9.5 million project, fully funded by the Herb Alpert Foundation, will replace the building’s fortress-like brick exterior with a glass facade that will allow passersby to look into the building, through to a courtyard garden.
After a ceremonial groundbreaking held on September 20, HSA President Eric Pryor said many community members are unaware of what happens inside the building at 645 St. Nicholas Avenue due to its plain exterior.
“What it will bring to the school, essentially, is visibility,” said Pryor, who suggested the glass exterior with floor-to-ceiling windows will allow outsiders to get a glimpse of the school’s operations.
“This school was really a safe haven in the 70’s. It was a very different time in New York City and in Harlem, so it really was about creating an oasis on the inside of this building,” he explained. “Today, we don’t need as much a safe haven, as much as we need to let people know in this community what we offer and how they can take advantage.”
Since 2010, Alpert and his wife Lani Hall have donated $17 million to HSA.