Williamsburg parents rally for new community center
by Benjamin Fang
May 08, 2019 | 4031 views | 0 0 comments | 138 138 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The School Settlement Association (SSA) in Williamsburg was formed in 1901 by teachers and community leaders to give neighborhood kids opportunities for out-of-school programming.

The organization moved into its current facility at 120 Jackson Street in 1930. Almost nine decades later, local parents are calling on elected officials to help fund a new structure that can accommodate a growing community.

Last Thursday evening, dozens of students, parents and community leaders rallied outside the SSA building to show local pols the importance of a new community center. The new facility would also serve as an annex for nearby PS 132, which parents say is over capacity.

David Fagan, a third-generation Williamsburg resident and a parent at PS 132, said the school has reached its “breaking point.” Multipurpose rooms have outlived their usefulness, and students don’t have enough space for outdoor activities.

“It would be a huge step forward in public education in the area,” he said. “To bring a center that can provide for the kids would be a huge improvement, not just to reading and writing, but to the education of the whole child.”

Fagan, who has seen Williamsburg change from a “quiet, sleepy, post-industrial” neighborhood to the booming community it is today, said having a new community center would be a neighborhood focal point.

“We can gather in this space and do things a community does,” he said.

For PS 132 parent Richard Cabo, having an annex for the school would help students meet their educational and physical needs. A new facility would also serve not just the kids, but the children of the future, he said.

“Investing in children and people in the community ultimately leaves a lasting legacy,” Cabo said. “It’s more than just us here, right now.”

His son Matthias Cabo is a fifth-grade student at PS 132 who attends after-school programs at SSA. He participate in gym, arts and crafts, STEM classes and social-emotional learning.

“This is like a second home to me,” he said. “The counselors feel like family.”

Parents say although there are 750 students at PS 132 today, the capacity for after-school programming at SSA has dwindled to just 90.

The effort to fund and build the new facility is being led by St. Nicks Alliance, the North Brooklyn-based community development organization.

Frank Lang, the group’s director of Housing and Development, said the current building has a gymnasium that is too small and narrow.

“You can’t have more than one game going on,” he said. “You can’t have a real elementary school basketball game.”

In the new structure, the gym will be on the top floor and can accommodate not just multiple basketball games, but volleyball and other recreational activities. It will also have locker rooms for the students to change.

The state-of-the-art building will have additional activity rooms for classes and programming. The gym can also be converted into a stage, which can host plays and musicals.

Lang said it will have an elevator to make the building handicap accessible. There will also be enough accessible bathrooms for all kids and adults who use the space.

“It would be the kind of facility we could have for seven days a week for longer hours,” he said. “We could really make thing thing a vibrant core for our community.

“This has been a critical institution for our community for all of the 20th century,” Lang added. “Now we need to make it that for the next 100 years.”

According to St. Nicks Alliance, the total cost of the new facility is roughly $23.34 million. The organization has already requested $9.5 million from the City Council and the borough president’s office.

Of that $9.5 million, $4 million has already been committed. The group is asking for an additional $1.4 million from Borough President Eric Adams and $4.1 million from Councilman Antonio Reynoso.

State representatives have pledged an additional $2 million for the project. The St. Nicks board has raised $1.486 million itself.

The remainder of the project will be funded by foundations and private sources.

“A lot of different elected officials have promised money over the years,” said Kim Gabriel, a parent at PS 132 and a St. Nicks board member. “We really just need them to make good on their promises.”

Joseph Robles, board chairman at St. Nicks, said the organization has already spent nearly $500,000 on pre-development, including getting BSA approval and architectural renderings. He said the board is committed to getting it done.

He called on parents and other community members to get behind the plan and help take it to the finish line.

“It’s time for the community to step up and let its voices be known of this need,” Robles said. “Get everybody you can involved.”

Rick Martinez, program director at SSA, said he wants to see even more faces at their next event.

“This rally is just the beginning,” he said.
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