The community facility received a $15 million makeover
After decades of blood, sweat, tears and fundraisers, the 59th Street Rec Center will finally open to the public next month. The former Rec Center, after operating on a skeletal crew and budget for years, officially shuttered its doors two and a half years ago. But plans were already in the making to create a new and better facility for the Upper West Side community.
Right now, the construction is complete, and the Gertrude Ederle Rec Center, which is on 60th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and West End Avenue, is comprised of an original building from the old rec center — an old public bath house — plus a brand new narrow brick building that will house facilities like an indoor pool, several dance and exercise rooms, as well as one room that will be flooded with sunlight from south-facing windows.
“We are happy to cut the ribbon this spring on the reconstructed Gertrude Ederle Recreation Center, providing New Yorkers with a state-of-the-art facility with expanded programming space to get active and stay fit,” said Manhattan Borough parks commissioner William Castro.
Mel Wymore, Community Board 7 board member, and city council candidate, has been working on this project since 1997, and 15 years and 15 million dollars of fundraising later, he is excited to see the facility finally getting ready to open its doors.
“This Rec center started off as an isolated building in an industrialized area and now its going to be a jewel in the middle of a highly developed residential area,” said Wymore. “By hook or by crook we ended up with a real public asset.”
The entire project began in the early ‘90s when the community wanted to fix the outdoor pool, but the project kept being delayed. The city eventually told the community not to fix the pool. Instead, said Wymore, they were told to raise money, and the city council allocated $2.2 million for the project. Wymore, along with other elected officials and the Friends of the Rec Center, had to come up with ideas of how to use the money and how to raise the rest of it.
“We worked together for almost two years coming up with the hybrid plan that took into consideration everyone’s needs,” said Wymore. “We waited a long time for this and we want to make sure everyone enjoys it.”
But once the plan was put into place, it took 15 years for the community to raise the total $15 million to finally open the new facility. Councilwoman Gale Brewer, Borough President Scott Stringer, and developers in the area all contributed money. Slowly but surely, the funds came together and construction began. Wymore said that he was especially proud that the community did not have to sell the air rights to developers, so the building will never have to be built up.
Right now, the Rec Center may not have an outdoor pool, but they do have a slew of programs and activities for locals: from a teen room and computer lab, to a dance studio, indoor pool and weight rooms. Wymore said that they specifically focused on bringing teens and senior citizens to the rec center. They collaborated with the schools to bring after school sports and arts programs back to the rec center, as well as exercise programs and computer training classes for seniors. The outside area will have playgrounds, a soccer field and a seating area for adults.
The new rec center is not just going to bring the old center back to life. No one knows that better than Mary Rosato, the president of the Friends of the Rec Center, who has been working on the refurbishment of the rec center since the 1980s, when there were many false starts and stops on the project. Throughout the years, she organized protests and rallies to vamp up the original rec center.
“The rec center was very run-down; it didn’t have good showers, the locker room was rusty and dilapidated, the outdoor pool had also collapsed,” said Rosato. “It was neglected over the years. The community actually took over running the center. At one point it was so understaffed that our volunteers would be mopping the floors and the locker rooms, as well as at the front desk checking people in.”
With the memory of the falling-apart rec center still fresh in her mind, Rosato said that while she is excited that the center will finally be open, she is determined not to let the new rec center fall into disrepair. She said that the Friends of the Rec Center will continue fundraising so that it will be kept like new and running smoothly.
Rosato is also determined to get the outdoor pool open again.
“People used to call this place the Coney Island on the west side,” she said. “During the three months of summer, we would get 10,000 users in here.”
The Recreation Center is set to open in April with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. An annual adult membership is $150, seniors are $25 and children under 18 can use the facilities for free. The opening ceremonies will coincide with the beginning of construction on the outdoor facilities, which will open in two years.
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