Over 120 attendees asked questions and made suggestions for the new recreation center in East Flatbush at a Parks Department’s virtual meeting Thursday night.
The community input session was the latest step in creating the Shirley Chisholm Recreation Center at Nostrand Playground. The plans call for an indoor pool, a learning kitchen, and a media center named after the late Roy Hastick, among other fitness and cultural offerings.
“This is the community’s community center,” said the local Council Member Farah Louis, who signed in remotely to Thursday’s meeting while also participating in a turkey giveaway. “This is going to be a beacon of inspiration for our community.”
The new recreation center is the result of a years-long process started by the area’s previous Council Member, Jumaane Williams, who in 2017 announced a similar project elsewhere in the neighborhood that never came to fruition. Louis, his replacement, revealed in July that the project had been revived and would be paid for “using capital funding shifted from the NYPD to Parks in the Fiscal Year 2021 Adopted Budget.” However, the estimated cost of building the center has not been made public.
At Thursday’s meeting, Martin Maher, the Parks Department’s Brooklyn Borough Commissioner, credited Louis and Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte with pushing the project across the finish line.
“Ladies, I owe you an apology,” Maher said. “I was just going by my experience. I said it’s very unlikely a pool will happen. You win, you got the money. The Council Member and the Assembly Member got the money from the Mayor.”
The center will be built atop a Parks Department-owned turf field that borders Farragut Place between East 31st and East 32nd Streets. At this time, many details about the final design remain undecided, including the building’s size and whether any portion of the existing turf field will remain. At the meeting, attendees asked several questions about the project’s impact on an adjacent elementary school, PS269, whose students often use the field for recess and competitive sports.
Students would not have “unfettered access” to the new space, Maher said. But he told attendees he had spoken with PS269’s leadership and “would be happy to work with them around the recreation schedule.”
“They couldn’t just come in and say ‘hey, we’re using the pool today,’” Maher said. “But via permitting and via discussion with the administration, we would work with them for both the playground and the recreation center.” Existing amenities beyond the turf area, including a playground, a spray shower, and handball courts, will remain.
Multiple attendees also raised concerns about homelessness and drug use in the immediate area, to which Maher said, “We haven’t had such issues at any of our recreation centers, and we don’t expect any here.”
In addition to questions and concerns, attendees also put forward several programming and design ideas, ranging from green architecture and senior programs to DJ-ing lessons, baking classes, and chess competitions.
“The Brooklyn chess festival is one of the highlights of the season,” said Eileen Dalton, the department’s Brooklyn Chief of Recreation, who helped facilitate the discussion. “So we’d love to get a team out of Shirley Chisholm.”
“We’d love to get the winning team out of Shirley Chisholm,” Martin added.
The city’s Department of Design and Construction will construct the center using a process known as design-build, in which building designers and contractors begin working together at the beginning of a project to shorten the construction timeline. The state government granted the city the power to use the design-build process in December of 2019.
The Parks Department said it hoped to present a design proposal to the local community board by fall 2021, begin construction in summer 2022, and achieve “substantial completion” by spring 2025.