Volume 73, Number 33 | December 17 - 23, 2003

Chelsea Recreation Center slated to open in April

By Albert Amateau

Photo courtesy N.Y.C. Department of Parks and Recreation

Workers recently installed dolphin tile murals by the Chelsea Recreation Center’s swimming pool.

Chelsea residents turned out in force last week to hear from the Department of Parks and Recreation and elected officials about the Chelsea Recreation Center’s long-awaited spring opening in a building that had been left half-finished and vacant for about 30 years.

Nearly 200 people gathered at the Fulton Senior Center in the Robert Fulton Houses on Wed., Dec. 10, to get the details about membership and the opening, targeted for the first week in April, of the center at 430 W. 25th St.

“For decades we never gave up the fight,” said City Councilmember Christine Quinn, who outlined the tortuous history of the six-story building promised in 1964 to replace the old “Chelsea Bathhouse” that was demolished to make way for the Morgan Annex postal facility on 29th St.

Construction on the Rec Center on 25th St. fell victim to the municipal fiscal crisis of the 1970s and the building was sealed unfinished in 1974. It served as a storage depot for the Parks Department until May 2001 when Mayor Giuliani agreed to put $17.5 million into the city budget to complete the center.

Quinn earmarked $2 million in discretionary funds for the center. Congressmember Jerrold Nadler had previously secured a $225,000 federal grant for the project. Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields also committed $20,000 for a survey of the unfinished building. While the building was sealed, State Senator Tom Duane, then a councilmember, committed city funds to stabilize the unfinished building.

Despite budget cutbacks after the Sept. 11, 2001, World Trade Center attack, work on the Chelsea Rec Center continued, supervised by the Department of Design and Construction.

At last week’s meeting, Kevin Jeffrey, Parks Department deputy commissioner for public programs, and Christopher Clouden, Parks’ chief of recreation for Manhattan, fielded questions from the audience, many of whom were from the Robert Fulton and Elliott-Chelsea Houses.

The brick building between Ninth and 10th Aves. includes a full gym, a computer resource center with 10 workstations and high-speed Internet access, a cardio room with 12 stationary bikes, six step machines and six treadmills and a weight room with free weights and machines and several rooms for meetings and classes.

The six-lane swimming pool already has water in it, five months before the opening. Clouden explained that the water is necessary to prevent the tiles from getting too dry and loosening. The mosaic panels of dolphins on the walls of the swimming area were created and installed free of charge, courtesy of the Italian Trade Council, Clouden added.

The center will operate Mondays through Saturdays; 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and for eight hours on Saturday. It will be closed Sundays. There will be a small snack concession, but no kitchen facilities. The wall in the reception area could be transformed into a climbing wall sometime in the future.

The annual Rec Center membership for adults 18 to 54 years old will be $75; seniors 55 and older will pay $10 a year and all youth 17 and younger will have free membership. “No cash,” said Jeffery, “It could create problems, so we’ll only accept checks, money orders and credit and debit cards.”

There will be a 20 percent discount for group memberships for corporate and nonprofit groups. A photo ID membership card, issued to every member including children, will have to be presented at the entrance, as a security measure. “We don’t intend to have metal detectors,” said Jeffery. “We don’t have them in any other recreation center because we think they send the wrong message. We want to bring people into the center, not keep them out,” he added

Membership in the Chelsea Rec Center will admit a cardholder to any of the city’s 35 other recreation centers.

The Parks Department will fill eight staff positions to run the center and Chelsea residents were urged to respond to a help wanted notice scheduled for publication in the Daily News on Dec. 13. The center will have a six-member security force.

Community Board 4 has asked the Department of Transportation to put a speed bump on W. 25th St. between Ninth and Tenth Aves. to slow vehicle traffic in front of the center. “The Department of Transportation indicated they thought it was a good idea and they’re seriously considering it,” said Lee Compton, a community board member.

A free after-school program for boys and girls from 6 to 15 years old will operate Monday through Friday 3-6 p.m. during the school year. Applicants will be accepted on a first-come-first-served basis and when the program is full, a waiting list will be created for future openings. However, Clouden said the center would not operate a daycare program.

Teens at Parks (TAP) will offer a variety of arts, cultural, leadership, civic and sports programs free for boys and girls 13-19 years old. Teams from the Chelsea Rec Center will participate in citywide basketball, softball, flag football, soccer, track and field and swimming teams for youngsters 6 to 12 years old. Organized sports for teens will have teams for members up to age 19.

A summer day camp will operate 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday during July and August. Three three-week sessions will be available at a minimal cost. Swim classes will be offered free to children and adults for eight weeks during the fall and winter.

Later, the center will offer special classes in 10-week sessions for members for an additional fee. The special classes might include various aerobics and fitness programs, Tai Chi, karate, kickboxing and advanced swimming.

In response to questions about guest passes, Jeffrey said that recreation center managers may permit members to bring a guest once or twice, but there is no set policy. “We’ll try to work something out,” he added. The department also hopes to organize a youth council and a neighborhood advisory council to monitor how the center operates.

“We can’t be more thrilled at this opening,” said Janice McGuire, executive director of Hudson Guild, the Chelsea settlement house. Guild and Rec Center programs will complement each other, she said. Christian Miller, executive director of the McBurney YMCA, also welcomed the Rec Center opening and anticipated joint programs with the Center.

The undistinguished brick facade of the Rec Center is windowless and easily missed by passersby. “But don’t worry, we’re going to fly a lot of big flags out front at the opening,” said Jeffrey.

“We’ll close the street and have a block party,” Quinn said.


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