COURIER L 8 IFE, JUNE 18-24, 2021
Locals call for
reopening of Ridge
BY JESSICA PARKS
The COVID-19 pandemic washed
over the city and brought countless stories
of death and despair for New York’s
vulnerable — but it also robbed many
seniors of social interaction.
Now, a group of elder southern
Brooklynites are calling on the city to
reopen the Fort Hamilton Senior Center
that’s been closed for over a year,
arguing that the facility’s hundreds of
members can safely return after receiving
“There are seniors that need the camaraderie,”
said Richard McLaughlin
Sr., a resident of Dyker Heights and
member of the Bay Ridge senior center.
“Some rely on the center for socialization,
there are always groups doing all
sorts of activities there.”
As recreational centers were deemed
nonessential at the onset of the pandemic
and forced to close along with a
majority of businesses, some large cityowned
centers — like the Fort Hamilton
Senior Center — were instead used for
the Learning Bridges program, which
continues to provide child care for children
of essential workers.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced senior
centers could resume in-person
activities on June 14, but the June 1 announcement
only applied to those operated
by the city Department of Aging.
Meanwhile, the Fort Hamilton Senior
Center is operated by the Parks Department,
and therefore was not included in
the mayor’s announcement — leaving
local politicians on the search to fi nd
“We want to know why not, there
is not a good reason why this center
should remain closed, it is a lifeline in
the community,” said State Sen. Andrew
Gounardes, who penned a letter
alongside Councilmember Justin Brannan
for the center’s reopening.
The Fort Hamilton Senior Center
serves a membership of approximately
700 seniors, according to Gounardes —
many of whom have been reaching out
to his offi ce daily for several months advocating
for the return of their beloved
McLaughlin, 90, describes the center
on Fort Hamilton Parkway as a socialization
hub for southern Brooklyn
seniors that helps them stay active and
have a sense of community, among a
plethora of other benefi ts.
“It’s a mecca for seniors in the area,”
he told Brooklyn Paper.
And more than that, the center has
often provided much-needed refuge for
seniors as a cooling center during the
summer seasons, something it still cannot
be used for in its current state.
THe Fort Hamilton Senior Center.
Photo by Jessica Parks
“We have had 90-plus degree days
this week already,” Gounardes said.
“That would have been a great place to
send seniors who needed that help.”
Members are not allowed inside the
senior center due to safety concerns
with the children inside the building,
but pols and seniors alike argue the
handful of students served at the facility
could easily be transitioned to another
building as the city is opening
back up again since the pandemic.
Gounardes and Brannan wrote a
letter to the mayor on June 9 calling
for him to reject plans to use the center
for the upcoming Summer Rising program,
a free school-based day camp for
city kids, and reopen the center.
“We ask you to reject this plan and
instead reopen the Center to seniors,”
the politicians wrote. “While we agree
it was necessary to keep seniors safe at
home during the peak of the pandemic
and to accommodate our public school
hybrid and remote students, the number
of students currently being served
at the site numbers in the low double
Seniors have also mobilized to advocate
for the reopening of the center.
In addition to the daily calls to their
elected offi cials, they have compiled a
petition including hundreds of signatures,
attended community meetings
and have even considered protesting
outside of their elected offi cials’ offi ces,
as was suggested at the Dyker Heights
Civic Association’s June meeting.
And in concert with the seniors’ advocacy,
Brannan pledged that the area’s
electeds will continue the fi ght until the
center is returned back to the seniors
so they can get their old gang back together
after a yearlong pandemic.
“After more than a year of loss and
isolation, City Hall is preventing the
Greatest Generation from seeing their
friends again,” Brannan said. “It’s
heartbreaking and we are going to fi ght
As Borough President, Jo Anne will: