By Keenan Chen and Danish Mehboob
Residents in Washington Heights and Inwood have a long wish list for their neighborhood park: renovating the Olympic size swimming pool, restoring the racquetball courts and putting up fences.
Highbridge Park, built over 150 years ago, has been an important neighborhood fixture, offering many community programs and amenities. The park is among the largest in Northern Manhattan and named after the High Bridge, which is the oldest standing bridge in New York. It’s among the largest parks in northern Manhattan and offers many community programs and amenities. But it has not received a major upgrade in decades. That is about to change: In October 2016, Highbridge was one of the five parks selected by the city to received $30 million from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Anchor Parks initiative, a program that funds the renovation and reconstruction of a large park in every borough.
When residents realized the coming allocation for their park, many had a lot to say about how it should be spent.
“Sprucing up the pool for the neighborhood would be good,” said Scott Johnson, a Bronx resident.
“Light the park up,” said George Kalajian, who lives nearby. “Lights are the most effective use in this area. I try to avoid this area when I’m with my fiance.”
Ready for Renovations
Some longer-term improvements that residents have advocated for include the addition of a new playground, running lights from the High Bridge to the playgrounds, and improving disability access to the recreation center and particularly the pool.
Dorothy Dohney, a representative of the Highbridge Seniors, an organization of older residents, says the park’s pool needs to be renovated and repaired. Many of the group’s members frequent the pool and many have said that they have found loose rocks floating to the surface because the bottom of the pool is eroding. Dohney said when she goes to the pool to swim she’s sometimes “stepping on chunks of concrete that resurface in the pool.”
Beyond that, the pool, she said, is not suitable for cannot accommodate anyone in the community who is disabled, nor is it particularly child-friendly. “The pool is not ADA compliant,” said Dohney.
Despite its condition, the park’s pool is the only free pool in upper Manhattan above 145th Street. “We want the pool resurfaced and the ability to shower indoors,” said Dohney. “Changing rooms outside need repair too.”
However, the $30 million is not going to be enough to cover the costs of all the changes on park-goers wish lists, according to John William, the architect working on the redesign of Highbridge Park for the Anchor Parks Initiative. But the Parks Department and the community board will divide the project into three spending phases to accommodate as many of the changes as possible over time.
The first phase was voted on last month at a Community District 12 Board meeting in Washington Heights, Manhattan. The main changes voted on by a large majority were on overall park connectivity like making pathways and trails more accessible and installing new lighting in the park to improve safety. Phase 1 will take about $10 million from the budget and will be finished by 2019.
Phase 2 is expected to begin in May, with another presentation to be given beforehand in front of the community board. The actual work will start in 2019. The master plan is available online and will be updated as changes continue to be added to the park’s design.