Going on about a decade now, the North Shore of Staten Island, home to the island’s most diverse communities, has been left without a rec center that made so many activities accessible. Since George Cromwell’s opening in 1936, it was home to various community programming, a slew of computers for students to use after school, arts and crafts sessions, piano lessons, fitness activities and basketball games, for all ages. Cromwell had close to a century of programming and activities that brought the community together, helped young residents develop in areas such as arts or sports that were, and still are, lacking from their schools. In late May of 2010, it was closed for structural repairs, shortly after portions of the pier collapsed into the water, and finally it was demolished in 2013.
During that decade-long hiatus of sorts, a massive indoor track and gym facility was erected for $112 million on the island’s East Shore, while the North Shore remains without a composite facility. Instead, all of the facilities that Cromwell previously housed have since been relocated to various other facilities all around the island, scattered to other rec centers or schools and parks. While this seemed like the short-term solution our community needed, it did the greatest disservice to young students who now have to trek to these facilities, which makes them inaccessible and out of reach. The closing of Cromwell uncovered a larger issue facing the community—transportation. Young residents would have to commute to other locations that easily take 45 minutes to get to by public transport.
The North Shore is plagued with woes, from underperforming schools, lack of accessible transportation, high arrest rates, high rates of teen idleness. The stories and statistics are a familiar narrative associated with communities of color, that in fact, I didn’t bat an eye thinking about it. Instead, I did start thinking about how I would fix it. While there have recently been talks to rebuild Cromwell, it will likely take years to come to fruition among city permits, redistricting zones and various departments.
My proposal to the North Shore district representatives, and to non-profit foundations on the island, is to create a program for young students that partners with the island’s CUNY College of Staten Island, which already has ample space and existing facilities, to make extracurriculars more accessible. I propose to create a program that focuses on one underperforming elementary and one intermediate school in either Mariners Harbor or Port Richmond and offers up to 100 voluntary spots for students to enroll into the program. The program would bus students from their school to CSI, provide an afternoon meal, allow them an hour and half of play 3 times a week and cover a day for a sports activity, a day dedicated to the arts (either dance or visual arts) and a day dedicated to learning an instrument. The criteria for students to enroll would be on a voluntary basis, with parental or guardian permission, but students must commit to a 95 percent attendance rate in both school and the program. The respective timeline for the pilot program would be a full year, beginning in the summer. To track the student’s performance over the year, measure their initial attendance and engagement at school, ask them to self assess their own happiness and then follow their academic and attendance progression until the following summer. All of this, I project, would only require a budget of $1-1.5 million for the entire year, which accounts for the cost of bussing (a maximum of $260,000 including a $20,000 reserve), the average cost of a meal in New York City schools (which I calculated to be a maximum of $60,000 with an additional $15,000 reserve) and the rest of the proposed budget going towards wages, compensation and maintenance of the facilities at CSI.
At most, $1.5 million is a lot less of an expense than the $112 million that it took to build the Ocean Breeze Athletic Facility, or the nearly $7 million it took to demolish Cromwell. It’s feasible, and it won’t take another 10 years to make a difference in the lives of our young community members on the North Shore.
Salma Bandoo is a graduating senior at NYU Stern.