Rich private schools rally to save rec bubble on Pier 5

Rich private schools rally to save rec bubble on Pier 5
Community Newspaper Group / Kate Briquelet

A coalition of area private schools wants to build a sports bubble in Brooklyn Bridge Park now that park officials have failed to do so despite a deal between state lawmakers and Mayor Bloomberg earlier this year.

Parents and staff from Brooklyn Friends School, St. Francis College, Packer Collegiate Institute and other prep schools are advocating for a regulation-sized soccer field on Pier 5 and an indoor recreation center — saying that a field suited for college play would be better for the community.

“It’s an amazing idea and one that would be a huge positive for Brooklyn,” said Darrin Fallick, director of athletics at Packer Collegiate Institute on Joralemon Street. “For us, the ability to walk to a field or track would be a big positive.”

Last week, park officials approved a $19.2-million contract for three smaller artificial turf fields without the bubble, disappointing many locals who have been pushing for year-round recreation at the site — especially locals with children in area schools.

Now Councilman Steve Levin (D–Brooklyn Heights), state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D–Brooklyn Heights) and the school athletic heads are trying to convince Brooklyn Bridge Park officials to build a bigger field and release another request for developers before it’s too late.

Pier 5’s recreational bubble burst in October after Brooklyn Bridge Park www.brooklynpaper.com/stories/34/41/dtg_pier5update_2011_10_14_bk.html“>announced that it failed to attract a developer and wouldn’t seek any other contractors to build one.

Critics accused park officials of scuttling the winter-proof facility by setting unrealistic requirements for operators. For instance, the facility would have no rest rooms or locker rooms, and the owner would pay for maintenance, operations and off-season storage — all while offering free or low-cost access to the bubble, which would cost about $2 million to construct, only $750,000 of which would have been covered by the city.

The failure of the bubble to be included on Pier 5 is a major loss for Squadron, who maintains that the city has a “good faith” obligation to build a year-round recreation center as part of a deal he made with Mayor Bloomberg in August to allow some luxury housing inside the park to fund the $16-million annual upkeep.

But the fine print only requires park planners to issue a formal request for proposals for a bubble, which they did.

Some park advocates are slamming Squadron for giving up his veto over condos at John Street and Pier 6 — and not getting the promised indoor sports facility.

“We thought Squadron would use the veto power to get a good deal — and that’s not what he got,” said Jeff Strabone, a Cobble Hill resident.

For his part, Squadron said that “the obligation will be kept.”

“It’s premature to say the bubble is dead,” he added.

Even alive, a private-school–run bubble is making some park advocates nervous.

“It’s a slippery slope when you have private entities running what should be public facilities,” said Judi Francis of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund. “The good news is that the schools to date have been very cooperative.”

Doreen Gallo, president of the DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance, is helping organize area schools to demand regulation-sized fields at the pier. She said that proper fields is the first priority — then the private schools will consider operating a bubble.

She said that the elite schools don’t want the Pier 5 fields only for themselves, but as a shared facility with the community.

Having a regulation-sized field for home games would save parents time and money for bus trips.

“All this money is going into creating a park and we’re still looking at the same situation — we have nowhere to play our games,” Gallo said.

“No one’s asking for ownership. We’d just like to be able to play in our own neighborhood — on regulation-sized fields.”

Park spokeswoman Ellen Ryan claimed that regulation-sized fields aren’t feasible because the pier is too small, but that she welcomed the schools’ feedback on the bubble.

“We are always willing to hear ideas that potential users have for enhancing recreational use at Pier 5,” she said.

Reach Kate Briquelet at [email protected] or by calling her at (718) 260-2511.