Volume 74, Number 2
| May 12 - 18, 2004

Chelsea Rec Center finally opens its doors

Villager photos by Lorenzo Ciniglio

Eighth-grade students tried out the Center’s new pool on opening day.

By Albert Amateau

It’s been a long wait.

The Chelsea Recreation Center opened on Tuesday — 31 years after construction began, 28 years after it was left half-finished because of the city fiscal crisis and three years after construction resumed.

Mayor Bloomberg cut the ceremonial ribbon in the center’s third-floor gym at 11:30 a.m. on May 11, with the help of City Councilmember Christine Quinn, State Senator Tom Duane, Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields and Adrian Benepe, commissioner of Parks and Recreation.

Eighth-grade students from the Lab School in Chelsea shot some hoops and other eighth graders swam laps in the six-lane 25-yard pool on the ground floor.

It was a great day for Chelsea neighbors, including residents of the Elliott Chelsea Houses, the Penn South co-op and members of Community Board 4 who have been waiting for years for the Chelsea Rec Center to be opened at 430 W. 25th St.

“We’ll have to do some thinking on Community Board 4 now,” Walter Mankoff, chairperson of the board, said after the ceremony. “Every year we tell the city what our capital priorities are and for 20 years or so the top priority has automatically been ‘Complete the Chelsea Rec Center.’ Now it’s finally done.”

“I never thought it would happen,” said Phyllis Gonzalez, president of the Elliott Chelsea Tenants Association. “My son was 3 years old when they started. He’s 37 now and it’s open. I wish they’d told us about the opening earlier — he would have taken a day off to be here,” she said.

“I’ve seen them trying to build this for 35 years,” said Peggy Toole, a resident of the Elliott Chelsea Houses for 40 years. “My youngest — she’s 26 — wasn’t even born when they stopped working on it. But now we have it,” she said.

“When I moved to Chelsea in 1986 I wondered what was that crazy boarded-up brick building on 25th St.,” recalled Lee Compton, a member of Board 4.

“Can you believe it? After all these years our dream has come true,” said Doris Corrigan, a founder of Chelsea 25, a group organized six years ago on the 25th anniversary of the center’s ground breaking.

It was a great day too for Henry Stern, who served as commissioner of Parks under two mayors, Edward I. Koch and Rudolph Giuliani, and longer than any previous commissioner except for Robert Moses. Stern recalled that the old Chelsea Recreation Center, the former Chelsea Bathhouse on W. 28th St. on Ninth Ave., was closed when the site was sold to the Postal Service in the mid-1960s.

Duane, who was a councilmember during the dark years when the center was sealed half-finished, paid tribute to former Mayor Giuliani for resuming construction in 2001 and recalled the Chelsea community board members, now dead, who kept the issue alive — Helen Gilson, Rosemary Lynch and Ruth Kahn.

Bloomberg and Quinn also credited Rosemary O’Keefe, a former assistant commissioner for recreation under Giuliani, with playing a key roll in resuming construction of the recreation center.

Completed at a cost of $22.4 million, the six-story center encompasses 56,500 sq. ft. The basketball gym is high school regulation size with baskets on the sides for half-court games and space for gymnastics and ballet. The cardiovascular room includes step machines, treadmills and bikes. The strength room has free weights and Universal machines and the center has studio space for aerobics and yoga classes. The walls of the pool have five large mosaic panels of marine life donated and installed as a gift by the Italian Trade Commission and Bisazza of Vincenza, Italy, the company that made the 175,000 tiles and assembled them in the panels.

“We are very glad to be a part of this wonderful center and to be able to show Italian craftsmanship,” said Carlo Ferrari, deputy trade commissioner for the agency.

The Recreation Center game room area in the basement level has pool tables, ping-pong and a Foosball table. The building also includes a computer resource center with Internet access.

The project, built under the supervision of the Department of Design and Construction for the Parks Department, was funded with $20.9 million through the city capital budget — including $17 million committed by the Giuliani administration — $880,000 allocated by Quinn, $357,000 allocated by Fields and $250,000 in federal funds allocated by Nadler. During the years the center was sealed, Duane, who was councilmember at the time, committed city funds to stabilize the building.

The center is open for tours and registration this week. The full program schedule begins next week and a free after-school program will open in the fall.

Weekdays, the center opens at 6:30 a.m. and closes at 9:30 p.m. Saturdays the doors open at 8 a.m. and close at 3 p.m. The center is closed Sundays. The annual fee for members age 18 to 54 is $75, for seniors the fee is $10 per year and for 17-year-olds and younger, the center is free. Membership at the Chelsea Recreation Center is good at all the other 35 recreation centers in the city — and membership at any other center is good at the Chelsea center.

Payment will be accepted by credit cards, personal in-state checks and money orders but not cash. Checks and money orders must be payable to City of New York Parks and Recreation. The phone number of the center between Ninth and 10th Aves. on W. 25th St., is 212-255-3705 (fax 3606).

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