‘Father of LEED’ hopes to help spark LES Park building’s return to use

BY DENNIS LYNCH | Lower East Siders are organizing another push to open a city-owned building on Stanton St. in Sara D. Roosevelt Park to the public. A coalition of local stakeholders want the Parks and Recreation Department to make good on a promise it made almost 20 years ago to reopen the former recreation center that the agency has used as an operations facility since the 1980s.

Members of the Sara D. Roosevelt Park Coalition and other neighborhood groups will take their fight to City Hall at the City Council’s Dec. 1 Committee on Parks and Recreation meeting to discuss Parks Department properties closed to the public. Longtime Bowery resident and coalition member K Webster plans to testify about the tremendous community support to transform the building.

Advocates gathered outside the Stanton St. building in S.D.R. Park this past July during one of three workshops held over the summer to brainstorm about ideas for the building’s reuse. Villager file photo
Advocates gathered outside the Stanton St. building in S.D.R. Park this past July during one of three workshops held over the summer to brainstorm about ideas for the building’s reuse. Villager file photo

“Everybody around would like to see it used,” she said, “whether it’s a place for homeless people to come and get their bearings, a resiliency center or a general community center. Any use would be better than what it is now.”

The one-story building sits where Stanton St. crosses the slim seven-block long park. The Parks Department converted the structure from a community center into an operations center in the 1980s. However, the department committed to returning it to use as a community space in 1998.

Advocates recently gained a valuable ally and colleague in Robert Watson, a leading environmental scientist. Watson, often called the “Father of LEED” (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for helping found the green-building certification program, became involved with the park and visits weekly to help garden. He pushed state Senator Daniel Squadron to support the project at the senator’s town hall earlier this month.

Watson, like Webster and others involved in the effort, believes the Stanton St. building should be a “resiliency center” along with a year-round community center. The place could provide people with essential services in the event of a storm, he added.

“I think it would be important as these major storms become more normal to have a place where people can go during times of crisis that are more or less self-sufficient,” he said.

Watson said that the Red Hook Recreation Center is a viable model to replicate. The Parks Department outfitted that center with solar panels in 2013, so that neighbors can charge their phones and computers there in the event of a major blackout. The Brooklyn center will also provide refrigeration for food, emergency medicine and basic heating and cooling.

Watson said a year-round community space in the L.E.S. building would be an extension of this idea.

“Public resources where people can get together and engage socially is important. It can end up being a life raft in times of disruption,” he said. “Resilience has many components. There’s an economic and social component — the ability to withstand and come back, a community ethos, a spirit is part of that.”

Squadron will look into the project and will wait for Community Board 3 to weigh in before moving forward any further. If the initiative gains the board’s support, he would be happy to champion the cause, according to the spokesperson.

The City Council and borough president allocated $1 million to overhaul the building’s public restrooms, which should be completed by fall 2017.

Meanwhile, the Parks Department plans to continue to use the Stanton location for daily operations.

The location is essential for “the efficient operation” of the agency’s Manhattan parks system, according to a Parks spokesperson. It is a “fixed-post site” for the cleaning crew for neighboring park properties six days a week. All borough districts pick up supplies for their daily operation from this location, which are delivered by vendors five days a week. In season, on average, six operational staff work out of the building; off season two to three.

“The perception that this is a storage unit is a mischaracterization,” the spokesperson said. “We have staff stationed at the site and our maintenance and operations staff goes there every day.”

But Webster said that community organizations are ready to run programs at the building and that advocacy groups were even willing to help raise the funds to convert the space. What they want is a concrete guarantee that the building will be coming back into the public’s hands — which would help them raise the money, she said. Either way, the activist appears ready to get tough on pols and Parks to get things moving.

“We’re not really in the mood to hear a lot of excuses about why this can’t be returned,” Webster said, “not when we’ve offered to help with the space.”