With the Delano-Hitch Pool closed for the second straight year, and its park showing signs of neglect, the City of Newburgh is embarking on yet another plan to develop one of its Crown Jewels. The City Council has voted to apply for a $200,000 matching grant to develop the Delano-Hitch Park Master Plan.The application will be submitted to New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Environmental Protection Fund.
Alexandra Church, Director of Planning and Development for the City of Newburgh, cautioned the council at its July 8 work session that the grant is just for a study. It will not pay for any construction or renovation work. It does require two things to be successful. One is for adequate public involvement in the planning process. The other is for the plan to produce a detailed drawing with an engineer’s stamp that can be used to solicit bids for the actual work.
“Once you get the planning grant here, you can go after some implementation grants,” Church said.
Council members expressed some sense of urgency.
“The pool. I just wish we had it reopen for the kids,” said Councilwoman Ramona Monteverde “It’s unfortunate that it’s gotten to the point where it had to be shut down.”
Councilman Robert Sklarz agreed.
“I think Delano Hitch can be so much more than it has been,” Sklarz said. “It kills me every year to see that pool being unused. I look forward to this grant.”
City Manager Todd Venning told the council, at the July 12 meeting, that estimates to repair the city’s aquatic center require a minimum of $1.5 million.
The park dates back to 1916, when the land was donated by Annie Delano-Hitch (1849-1926), aunt of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the city of Newburgh. The Aquatic Center which in its current configuration, includes a 25-meter pool, a 25-foot water slide, fountain and mushroom sprays and a locker room facility, has been a major expense for the city to keep in operation. In 2016 it was filled with water donated by the Town of New Windsor, pumped from a New Windsor hydrant and coordinated with the help of city and volunteer firefighters. In 2019 the pool was closed for several days because of an algae problem that proved difficult to contain. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced cancellation of the entire season.
In other years, the aquatic season was shortened by crippling expenses. It generally began in late June and ended in mid August.
Mayor Torrance Harvey said he fielded many complaint calls about not having a swimming pool.
“I took a lot of hits about the swimming pool,” he said.
City officials are anxious to see the pool repaired, but aren’t quite sure how the remainder of the park will take shape. It currently includes fields for softball, soccer, baseball, and basketball courts. Its newest addition is a skateboard park that opened two years ago. Previously, the park had tennis courts and a speed skating oval and was, at one time, home of the Speed Skating Hall of Fame.
Councilwoman Karen Mejia wondered if some of the existing softball fields might be converted to soccer fields.
“Know your population,” Mejia said. “Know what the demand is.”
The other centerpiece of the park is a 2,000-seat stadium that dates back to 1926 and has been used primarily for baseball.
“I sang with Kenny Rogers there,” said Councilwoman Patty Sofokles.
At the time, the stadium was home to a minor league baseball team, but professional Minor League baseball has been contracted in recent years, and city officials openly questioned the viability of baseball in the park.
“Our new recreation director (Sam Sutton) says baseball is a dying sport,” Harvey said at the July 8 work session, adding that basketball and soccer are “huge, huge” in this community.
Despite that concern, the city last year undertook a major renovation to the baseball field, with a new field irrigation system, along with new infield dirt and sod. At last week’s council meeting, Venning also announced that the pitcher’s mound had been replaced.
Much of the facility, though, is still in disrepair. The stadium press box is boarded up, liter is abundant in and around the stadium and fencing throughout is damaged, giving unwelcome visitors access to the field and the grandstand.
Shea Ceriello, who heads the Newburgh Nuclears American Legion Baseball program, believes baseball could have a future in the City of Newburgh if it were allowed to happen. The Nuclears had called Delano-Hitch Stadium home since 1948.
“We were kicked out of the Rec,” Ceriello said recently. “Our office became a storage space for basketball products.”
In past years, Ceriello said, the amateur baseball programs had paid $10,000 for use of the city’s baseball facility. This year, though, no conversations have taken place, and the Nuclears and the Newburgh Red Storm, a program for younger kids, (age 10 and up) have had to scramble to find home games. The Nuclears have played most of their game on the road, this year, with a few home games at the Town of Newburgh Little League facility on Lakeside Road.
Ceriello believes that the stadium could host two games every night from June through Labor Day if the city would accommodate them.
The city recreation department is hoping that the lack of a swimming pool can be offset in part by its summer playground series that began in early July and runs through mid August. Hours are 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The series consists of a mix of recreational programs at various City parks that conjunctively offers, according to a press release, play streets intended to give area residents more space for recreation in their neighborhoods. Selected portions of streets will be closed to traffic, prioritizing the streets adjacent to parks that are part of the playground series. These spaces will enable people to move around while facilitating social distancing.
Participants will be provided with recreational equipment to engage in non-organized sports activities such as soccer, kickball, and football. City staff will provide craft material for art projects that will connect participants with their artistic abilities and help them explore socially distant forms of self-expression. The City will also provide “play packs” filled with activities such as sidewalk chalk, hula hoops, bubbles, gliders, jump rope, and much more. Additional recreational activities will include water games and bouncy houses at least once a week.
Designated parks include Audrey Carey Park (July 19-23), Downing Park (July 26-30), Hasbrouck Park (August 2-6) and Delano Hitch Park (August 9-13).
The city, in collaboration with the Newburgh Enlarged City School District, will also provide breakfast and lunch throughout the duration of the program.
While the city is optimistic that the grant will produce a sound plan for the future, Councilman Omari Shakur remains cautious.
“Two hundred thousand for a plan and some drawings? Right? I draw really good,” Shakur said. “Can I get some of that money?”
Shakur said he hopes the public and the city’s new department head have some strong input into the planning process.
“We can make all the plans and drawings we can, but will we have the money to make those plans and drawings come to life?”