Dwight School Opens New Athletic Center and Launches Model Community Partnership
Photo credit: Stan Schnier
A unique and inspiring partnership has been forged between the private Dwight School on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and the 1199 Housing Corporation, owner of the East River Landing cooperative, an affordable Mitchell Lama project in East Harlem. The unlikely pairing is a result of the great need by the nursery-12 school for expanded athletic facilities and the presence at the co-op of a wonderful sports complex that had been shuttered for 14 years due to lack of funds for maintenance. At a joyful ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Dwight School Athletic Center at the co-op last month, the school’s Chancellor, Stephen Spahn, said he spent many years looking at all sorts of spaces and basements but “kept my eye on the prize,” culminating first in leasing the space six months ago and now opening its doors on this momentous occasion. Speaking of William Dames, President of the 1199 Housing Corporation and his negotiating partner, Spahn explained, “Together, he and I dared to dream, had the courage to take a risk, and signed a groundbreaking community partnership — a model for transforming urban America. We envisioned a place where two diverse communities, without regard to personal circumstance, would create unique opportunities and new possibilities for all.” At the ceremony, Spahn announced that the entry to the newly refurbished facility will be called The William Dames Hall.
The very impressive, beautifully renovated 40,000-square-foot center includes a 25-yard, six-lane indoor swimming pool, two rooftop outdoor tennis courts, a regulation-size high school gym with bleachers that seat 200, multi-purpose exercise rooms, male and female locker rooms, and more. Dwight pays rent and assumes expenses and the responsibility for running the center, but shares use of the facilities with the 6,500 residents of the co-op; hours of use generally break down to weekends and weekday mornings and evenings for residents, with the time during and after school for Dwight students. Shuttle buses transport students between the Upper West Side and East Harlem. In the fall, Dwight looks forward to using the center for Junior Varsity and Varsity training and games; expanded physical education classes, including swimming instruction; and extracurricular programs. A summer day camp using the site has been inaugurated this year. In addition, scholarships to Dwight for eligible building residents will be awarded annually, and opportunities for program sharing between the two communities are being explored.
Reaction to the new center is enthusiastic. Lawrence Edelstein, Captain of the Dwight basketball team, explained that the group had “gone to an assortment of places to practice and always played games away … Now we have everything — a beautiful court, video room, weight room, and training room. We can finally play Varsity games on our own court in front of a supportive crowd. This will absolutely improve morale.” Eve Valenzuela, a member of the co-op board and its community relations committee, glowed as she anticipated using the swimming pool. The association with Dwight will “open many doors for shareholders,” she exclaimed. Board member Carmen Vasquez, “a very happy resident,” explained, “the community is changing rapidly. Some call it ‘gentrification,’ but the rejuvenation happening around us means more culture, health services and now, with our exposure to Dwight, education.” Spahn, who believes the partnership is part of “an urban renaissance” and that “the future is what we’re doing,” sees numerous benefits outside of athletics for both the Dwight and the East Harlem communities. He mentioned exploring projects such as involving students in an oral history focusing on East Harlem and working with the Rubin Museum to bring an exhibit of Cuban art from that institution’s large collection to the center. Speaking at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Geoffrey Eaton, Deputy Chief of Staff to Congressman Charles B. Rangel, echoed Spahn’s and Dames’ vision when he said, “We need to build partnerships and to cooperate. We need to understand that by building a cultural balance of diversity and working together, we benefit our children and our community.” #