Red Hook reclaims recreation space as ball fields, rec center reopen

red hook recreation center near red hook ball fields
The Red Hook Recreation Center and a number of the previously-closed ball fields have reopened, returning long-needed recreational spaces to the community.
File photo by Stefano Giovannini

Red Hook residents who have long been strapped for a space for fun can look forward to a brighter spring, as the city has reopened its recreation center and four of the ball fields previously closed to clean up lead-contaminated soil.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency discovered dangerous levels of lead from a former lead smelting facility in five of the Red Hook Recreation Area’s nine ballfields in 2015, and promptly ordered the city to close four of the fields and begin a multi-million dollar cleanup effort. After years of delay, work finally began in September 2018, with a projected completion date of March 2020. 

Nearly two years after that goal, the cleanup and installation of new artificial turf fields was finally completed and the fields reopened to the public last December, a representative from the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation said. The city and the EPA removed grass and a layer of contaminated soil, as well as many of the trees and plants on the perimeter of the fields, laid a foot-thick layer of clean fill over the remaining contaminated soil, and installed the new turf.

map of contaminated ball fields
Ball fields 5-8 reopened in December after a federally-mandated cleanup of the lead contaminated lawns. Environmental Protection Agency

The fields aren’t the only space Red Hookers have gotten back in the last few months. On Jan. 31, the Red Hook Recreation Center, which had been closed since March 2020, reopened with a full slate of programming for athletes, artists, and gamers of all ages.

All of the city’s recreation centers closed because of the pandemic nearly two years ago, and all but three, including the Red Hook location, reopened in September. Two weeks before the doors were set to reopen, Hurricane Ida unleashed historic winds and rain on the city and damaged the recreation center’s boiler, forcing the Parks Department to keep the building closed.

Residents raised the alarm in December when they learned that recreation center employees, who had still been working inside even though no programs were running, were being reassigned “indefinitely.” In a neighborhood already lacking community spaces, many worried that the closure would stretch on.

“It’s kind of a burden on the community because the children don’t really have any place to go now that is a safe space that they are familiar with,” said Tiffiney Davis, Executive Director of the Red Hook Art Program, at the time. “For them to just close because of heat seems to be not fair to the low-income community, when they can just fix the problem.”

Not only is the center critical for programming, she said, but to give residents of the nearby Red Hook Houses a reliable source of heat and hot water, which are frequently out at the public housing complex.

David Small, who lives at the complex, said he and other seniors in the neighborhood were without a safe place to socialize — with the recreation center closed and construction ongoing at the Red Hook Houses and the ball fields, they were forced to rely exclusively on technology.

““There’s nowhere to gather,” he said in December. “Yes, there’s cell phones, yes, technology, if you’ve got a phone, that’s the best thing you can do. There’s no benches to sit on, and with all the dust and everything.”

At the time, the parks department was looking for a way to keep the recreation center building toasty so it could reopen as they looked toward a full boiler replacement. Early this year, they secured a temporary mobile heating unit and installed it at the recreation center, allowing it to welcome the community back with open — and warm — arms.

A Parks Department representative told Brooklyn Paper that the design process for a project to reconstruct the Red Hook Recreation Center is expected to begin this year. As with all parks Capital Projects, design and procurement will take some time before construction begins — and no closures are expected before then.

Across the street from the rec center, work continues on baseball field 9, which was found to be less dangerous than its neighboring lawns and remained open until construction started in the summer of 2019. It is currently slated to reopen in June, with renovation of some of the soccer fields scheduled to wrap in November. The city is also in the process of procuring contracts to renovate a number of the remaining soccer and baseball fields.