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Non-Profit Community Center in Kingsbridge Needs $2 million in Repairs

Front doors of Kingsbridge Community Center on Wednesday, October 12th.

On a Wednesday morning in October, the sound of children playing filled the Kingsbridge Heights Community Center, a non-profit organization in the Bronx. Classrooms were filled with dozens of students while strollers lined the sides of the building. Staff members cooked in the kitchen getting the next meal ready for families that may be struggling to make ends meet. 

The building, on Kingsbridge Terrace is 100-years-old and it shows. The roof is falling apart, there are tarps lined across the tops of the building to keep water out and there’s patch work to keep debris from falling.

It needs over $4 million in repairs, but the community center is $2 million short. If it doesn’t find the money in the next six months, it will have to shut its doors and find a different location. 

“Moving would have a devastating effect on the community and the staff,” Chief Operating Officer Shania Rodriguez said. 

The 10,000-square-foot building houses childcare, after school programs, ESOL classes, case management services for housing and provides a food pantry that serves 400 meals every day. 

Chairperson for the parent council, Marlene Hungria, said her daughter has been going to KHCC since she was just three months old. 

“To be at that place was like a salvation,” Hungria said. They provided her with training for healthy eating, positive discipline and a blueprint on how to tell if a child is having signs of developmental growth. 

Prior to becoming a community center, the building was owned by the New York City Police Department’s 50th precinct. After the NYPD left it was assigned to the Parks and Recreation Department that now leases it to KHCC, according to property records.  

In 2014, KHCC got $2 million from the city discretionary awards to build a new facility, according to  Rodriguez. But at the time the non-profit was in a bad financial state – it had gone through layoffs and furloughs and a change in administration. Margaret Della, the current CEO was brought on in 2016. 

KHCC realized it wasn’t financially able to build a new facility and decided instead to put the funds they were awarded toward a remodel of their current building, according to several staff members. 

This started another process- according to a Guidelines sheet for Capital Funding Requests for Not-for-Profit Organizations, if an organization changes the project for another type of work they have to submit a new form for the following fiscal year and start the process over. A capital project can take years, according to NYC Parks.

But by the time the community center got the funds reallocated and approved, the pandemic hit. The project jumped from $2 million to $4.2 million.  

“We do not have the funds to meet that drastically increased amount,” Della said.  

The entire building’s facade and the upper roof has to be redone, according to Rodriguez, who went to a parks and recreation meeting last month to notify Community Board 8 that the organization needs help reaching out and notifying community leaders regarding the repairs. 

The community center wants to be able to focus on the services they provide and not worry about, “literally the roof over our heads,” Della said.

Even though the building is owned by the city of New York, it does not bear the responsibility of fixing it. According to the lease agreement between KHCC and the Parks Department, it states that “Neither Parks nor the Commissioner is obligated to fund any repairs or alterations to the site.”  

“I should have never even entertained the idea that KHCC could handle these repairs,” Della said.   

If the building can’t be fixed and the center is forced to move, it has to stay in the same zip code because it’s funded by federal dollars – which poses another challenge for the organization. 

KHCC has two adjacent properties, one is a little white house with a playground in front. This house hosts the program “changing futures,” which provides free long term therapy to survivors of child sexual abuse, domestic violence, and campus assault. The other building is the Early Childhood Administration building where KHCC works with families who are below the poverty line to be eligible for free childcare. 

The property is made up of three buildings all dedicated to KHCC, and if the main building moves community members might not be able to move with it. 

The Youth room in KHCC, where over 75 teens come to do homework and work on college applications after school.

Marisol Rios works in the Early Childhood Administration building and has been with KHCC for 13 years.

“If KHCC has to move it will fall,” Rios said. 

She said that many parents came to her after the pandemic and said that without the community center they wouldn’t have survived because of all the services they provide, including free meals.  

“It’s kind of central to the city so people don’t have to travel that far, and I think this building is perfect because we have the other buildings next to it,” Hungria said. 

The three buildings all work together to form one support system for the entire community.  

“Between the Early Childhood building, the little white house and the big building, they’re all connected pieces,” Della said. 

KHCC has had to patch walls and put up tarps throughout the building, to keep it safe, but that’s the extent of what they can afford to repair. So far they’ve paid for the damages out of their own operating budget that is supposed to be covering salaries and investing in programs. 

“The Kingsbridge Heights Community Center is a valued community space for free and low-cost youth and adult programming in the Bronx, and we are working with them to help facilitate needed repairs to the building and its façade,” the Parks Department said in an email. 

Rodriguez said that in order to get the money quickly the community center would have to fundraise the extra two million dollars it needs, but according to their financial statement from FY21 only three percent of their income comes from fundraising. 

“The cost to be safe is going to continue to go up,” Della said. 

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Community Resources, Housing, The Bronx Beat0 Comments

Pickleball Is On The Rise: One Bronx Resident Requests More Courts

Alex Rosenblum speaks at the Parks and Recreation meeting last Wednesday about adding pickleball courts to Seton Park.

Alex Rosenblum, 74, grew up as an athlete playing hockey and tennis. Being active was a huge part of his life until he had his first heart attack at 42. Rosenblum’s cardiologist told him to “take it easy.” 

Taking his doctors advice Rosenblum bought a place down in Florida and spent his winters there — he noticed people were playing a game that looked familiar — it was a lot like tennis. 

It was called pickleball.

“It’s a social game, there’s a camaraderie there,” Rosenblum said. 

Pickleball is the fastest growing sport for the second year in a row according to The Sports & Fitness Industry Association, and now,  Rosenblum is asking the Parks Department to create more pickleball courts in the Bronx. 

“I saw the courts in Florida and I was a longtime tennis player. And I thought, ‘hey, I can do that,’” Rosenblum said. But when he came back to Riverdale he could hardly find anywhere to play. 

Pickleball is played on a badminton-size court with a paddle and ball. It’s commonly played with two people per team with points scored by the serving team. 

According to the national USA pickleball site there are more than 4.8 million participants across the country. 

In the Bronx, there’s one designated court to play pickleball. It’s located near the southwest playground in Van Cortlandt Park. During COVID, there was a pickleball craze and so the Parks Department created a court as an experiment, said Stephanie Ehrlich, Executive Director of the Van Cortlandt Park Alliance. 

But it’s a “poor design,” according to Rosenblum. It’s part of a paved game court, allowing people to freestyle any game they choose without having the structure needed for a pickleball court, he said. 

Rosenblum noticed that Seton Park, just a couple miles from Van Cortlandt park, had six tennis courts that could easily be turned into a couple of pickleball courts; other pickleball players in the community felt the same way, according to Rosenblum. 

Rosenblum started to contact community leaders and the Parks Department on behalf of other pickleball players in Riverdale. He sent dozens of emails and letters requesting pickleball courts be added in Seton Park.

At a Parks and Recreation meeting last Wednesday night, Rosenblum was hoping to announce his ideas to the Parks Department in-person but they failed to show.  

“I had hoped that somebody from the Parks Department would be here to view the status report but that’s not the case,” Bob Bender, the Interim Chair of the Parks and Recreation Committee said. 

Instead Bender read a statement from the Parks Department. They said that the park is concerned the tennis courts cannot be adequately transformed into a pickleball court in Seton Park, but they are looking into putting a pickleball court in a different area.  

“I’m surprised that the Parks Department says that you can’t convert it because all over the country they take a tennis court and they could squeeze in four pickleball courts…easily,”  Rosenblum said.  

In an email to BronxInk, a spokesperson for the Parks Department stated the department was exploring two additional locations for new courts in the Bronx and is in discussion with the community board to make this happen. 

“It’s always our goal to provide a balance of access between all of the various sports and activities that our regular park visitors enjoy,” said Dan Kastanis Senior Press Officer of NYC Parks. 

Tennis and pickleball player Carol Stricker said she’s been reaching out to politicians and community leaders for over a year about the tennis courts at Seton Park. 

“If they were to fix up the courts they can certainly take one of the tennis courts or two of the tennis courts and put pickleball lines on it,” Stricker said. 

There are 11 pickleball areas in the city and the Bronx has one court that’s located in Riverdale, according to NYC parks data. Each pickleball area has multiple courts on them, except in the Bronx. 

Photo of a pickleball court in Leif Erikson park in Brooklyn from Eric Ho, Co-Founder of NYC Pickleball.

New York is one of the regions in the U.S. with the largest number of total participants in the sport, according to a USA Pickleball fact sheet  As the pickleball community grows in NYC so does the need for courts. Co-Founder of NYC pickleball, Eric Ho, said the difficulty in New York is there are limited courts.  

Ho, 33, said he picked up his first pickleball paddles in the summer of 2020 with his wife Ray. 

“We were looking for anything to toss around just like everyone else who was desperate to get outside,” Ho said. 

He said it was hard to find anyone playing in New York at the time and he didn’t realize what a pickleball community was supposed to look like until he went down to Memphis to visit his in-laws. 

When Ho and his wife came back to New York City in March of 2021, they started to find small groups all around the city. 

He recently left his job to be a full time pickleball coach and to run NYC pickleball. He and his wife created the website for players around the city to connect and learn about the sport. 

“People are looking for places to play in New York and they just haven’t been able to figure it out through the parks department. Nothing’s been super clear,” Ho said.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Sports0 Comments

Riverdale Avenue Goes “On A Diet”

A protest held by political leaders and community members on Sept. 7 on Riverdale Avenue after the road diet project was completed by the Department Of Transportation

Earlier this month, the Department of Transportation took Riverdale Avenue and put it “on a diet.” The project known as a “road diet” transformed the avenue from a two-lane traveling road to one. A bike lane and a turning bay were added to the road that stretches from West 254th to West 263rd Street.  

The project was the result of efforts that started back in March of this year between DOT and local elected officials, DOT wrote in an email.  

From 2015 to 2019 there were three traffic fatalities along the stretch and 66 total injuries, according to DOT. They added that two of these fatalities were senior-aged pedestrians which demonstrated the need for a safer street.

However, residents are concerned about the new project which was completed on Sept. 5. because of increased traffic, double parking during school hours and congestion due to sharing the lane with city buses. 

The Traffic and Transportation Committee of Community Board 8 held a meeting on Sept. 15 where residents showed up to voice those concerns. 

Riverdale resident, Eric Miooan, was one of several who spoke out against the road diet. 

Taking out a lane is “like cutting off somebody’s leg and saying you’ll get used to it,” Miooan said. 

Community Board 8 rejected DOT’s proposal due to not receiving enough traffic studies to change the road, according to Community Board 8 meeting minutes.  The board also said that the plan didn’t take into account merging traffic and parking. 

Across the nation, road diets have been known to help reduce speed and accommodate other modes of traffic like bicycling, according to the federal highway administration. 

DOT proposed that the 60-foot-wide road be divided into smaller sections. The road is still the same width but a lane for bikes has been added and a turning bay, leaving a smaller amount of room for cars. 

At the Sept. 15 meeting, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (D) spoke of how shocked he was that DOT delivered the new road so quickly.   

“It’s an absolute insult that the DOT could have moved this quickly,” Dinowitz said.

He said that it normally takes the department months to complete projects like this but they finished the road diet in eleven days. 

First Deputy Commissioner Margaret Forgione of DOT said they got the project done quickly because the department wanted it finished before children in the community went back to school.

On the other hand, Dinowitz said he’s been pushing for left turn signals on Riverdale Avenue for years now. 

“Put in the left turn signals, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out the battle in the flow of traffic and make the decision to put in left turn signals,” Dinowitz said.

There was a protest on Riverdale Avenue on Sep. 7 after the project was finished, where City Council Member of District 11, Eric Dinowitz (D) called on DOT to take a look into community concerns. 

“We’re calling on the DOT to take into account actual community concerns and to be a collaborative partner in projects or proposed projects, instead of completely ignoring the community,” Dinowitz said. 

DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez attended the traffic and transportation meeting on the 15th to listen to the community’s concerns and get feedback. 

One member Yesenia Jimenez explained how she almost got into a car accident earlier that week because people aren’t used to the new road. 

Laura Spalter, Chairperson of CB8, said she got a phone call from the board office earlier that week that two cars had gotten into a sidewalk accident, and were found up on the curb of the Skyview Shopping Center on Riverdale Avenue between 258th and 259th street because of the new conditions. 

“If somebody had been walking on the sidewalk they would be dead,” Spalter said.  

Spalter also spoke at the protest earlier this month saying that the Traffic and Transportation Committee voted against the plan repeatedly.  

DOT said that they would come back in a year and reassess—if they see no changes or an increase in accidents at that time, then they’ll “go from there.” 

DOT has done similar projects in the Bronx that have shown to reduce total injuries between 22 percent and 47 percent, and citywide road diets have reduced deaths and serious injuries by 30 percent on average, according to research from DOT. 

“So we do expect to see that here and we will be monitoring it,” Forgione said. 

Shawn Garcia, Bronx and Uptown Organizer for Transportation Alternatives, is in support of road diets across the city and responded to a tweet from the commissioner on Sept. 15 just hours before the meeting.  

“Appreciate the commissioner @ydanis pushing forward this work, especially despite the small anti-road diet forces in Riverdale. The racial and class equity issues here are so apparent.” 

In an interview with The Bronx Ink, Garcia said that Community Board 8 isn’t representative of Riverdale as a whole. 

“We don’t want to wait for the next person to die or a child to get hit by a car,” Garcia said. 

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Northwest Bronx, Transportation0 Comments

Remembering Ruth Mullen: Community Honors Riverdale Activist One Year After Her Death

Community members of Riverdale gather for a rally on Johnson Ave. and Kappock St. to honor Ruth Mullen who died there in 2021. McKenna Leavens for The Bronx Ink.

Dozens of people gathered Sunday afternoon in Riverdale to honor Ruth Mullen – a neighborhood activist who was killed by an MTA express bus while crossing the street outside her home on Johnson Avenue in early September of last year.  

Mullen, 68, was an activist in her community, and was a part of a local political group of women called the Huddle. 

“She said many times that it would take someone to be killed there for a traffic light to be put in,” Sue Dodell, a member of the Huddle said. 

Jim Bradley, Mullen’s husband of 30 years, spoke to the crowd. The one-year anniversary of her death is this week and while Bradley wanted to celebrate Mullen’s life he also wanted to use this time to rally friends and neighbors to get involved in making the community safer. 

Jim Bradley, Mullen’s husband, honors the memory of his wife’s death at Sept. 4th rally. McKenna Leavens for The Bronx Ink.

“She worked at the polls, you can work at the polls. Get involved in organizations, engage with people. Change happens one person at a time,” Bradley said.  

The intersection is a heavily used bus route and there can be little visibility due to the multiple slopes, according to notes from a city council committee meeting last year. Many community members complained about cars and buses rolling through the stop signs. 

State Sen. Gustavo Rivera showed his condolences at the rally. 

“There is a level of responsibility that we all have to be activists, and to try to change our community for the better. That is what Ruth did. I’m hoping that we all continue to do that,”  Rivera said. 

During the rally there was a man driving who started to make a scene. He was honking at the cars slowing down. “That’s the problem,” Rivera said, pointing to where the man was. 

In August, New York Mayor Eric Adams announced that speed cameras in school zones citywide will be turned on 24/7. Rivera was a part of this decision and said it’s already made a difference. Signs about speed traps were also put up with the intention to slow drivers down. 

Abigail Martin, Female leader of the 81st Assembly District (D), said there’s intersections all over the city that are in need of stoplights and other safety measures. 

“I would like to see more attention from the mayoral administration given to the Department of Transportation because it’s really a quality of life issue that affects everybody,” she said. 

A traffic light was installed at the intersection on Kappock Street and Johnson Avenue at the beginning of August, almost a year after Mullen’s death.  

At the rally Elizabeth Cooke-Levy, a member of the Huddle, announced that they renamed their political group to the Ruth Mullen Riverdale Huddle in her honor. Bradley continued his wife’s legacy by encouraging everyone to follow in her footsteps and advocate for what’s right and push for safer streets.

“Get involved, that’s what Ruth would say. It’s important to get out there and vote,” Bradley said. 

Posted in Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, Cars, Transportation0 Comments