NYC Parks and Parsons unveil new community space in NYC

community space in NYC
© Margaret Badore

Highbridge Park runs along the Harlem River, providing the Washington Heights neighborhood with greenery, open space and a place to exercise. The Highbridge Pool and Recreation Center was built in 1936, and aside from the addition of a breezeway in 1983, has only received minor upgrades until now.

Yesterday, a ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrated the completion of renovations at the Highbridge Recreation Center. The work was done by a collaboration between NYC Parks and architecture students at Parsons over the course of the past three years. Parsons’ Design Workshop offers free work to non-profit organizations, while giving students hands-on experience. The Highbridge Park project cost $1.65 million, which came from both public and private funding.

Design Workshop project© Margaret Badore

Highbridge Pool and Recreation Center© Margaret Badore
The Design Workshop first created the Splash House, a locker room facility for the pool area that allowed the community center to operate year-round. Before the Splash House was built, the community center facilities had to be converted to changing rooms, preventing the space from being used for after-school activities and other purposes. The rest of the renovations included enclosing the breezeway, building a new lobby and reception area, and creating additional community rooms.

“I can’t tell you how much it means to us at Parsons, both the faculty and especially the students, to have the opportunity to work with this community,” said Executive Dean Joel Towers.

While sustainable design was a goal for the project, working on a tight budget was a major constraint. The new structures take advantage of a number of passive design features, like ample natural light and ventilation.

Alfred Zollinger, Director of Design Workshop, told me that enclosing the breezeway helped the facility make the most of its existing energy usage. All of the interior spaces are heated by a single zone boiler, which was in use all year. By enclosing the breezeway, more people can use the facility without increasing the energy needs. Zollinger said the new space “activates the whole place, so you can have people using it year-round.”

Other sustainable aspects of the design include refurbishing the existing lockers, installing benches made from recycled (and donated) wood, and reducing the quantities of necessary materials.

Over the course of three years, about 40 students contributed to the project. John Brandes worked at the site first as a student, and then for two years as a construction assistant. “It’s something only a student-run project would create,” he said.

The pool stayed open during the construction. Getting to know the people who work at the facility and working on-site also helped students improve the design. “When something wasn’t working, we could respond to that,” said Brandes.

A number of city officials attended the event, where it was announced that an ice rink will be added to the park’s facilities. District manager Ebenezer Smith predicted that thanks to the renovations, the park will become a destination.

NYC Parks and Parsons unveil new community space in NYC
A new park facility open yesterday in Highbridge Park, thanks to the work of Parsons architecture students.

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