Lawmakers, educators pay tribute to student advocates
BAY RIDGE – The newly renovated Fort Hamilton High School Athletic Field, which was officially dedicated on Tuesday, stands as a tribute to the determination of students and their ability to move public officials to take action, according to lawmakers and educators who attended a ribbon cutting ceremony at the facility.
The athletic field, which underwent a $4.7 million renovation that involved two city agencies, the Parks Department and the School Construction Authority, actually reopened to the public on Aug. 5. But the Sept. 10 ribbon-cutting took place to celebrate the fact that students are finally getting the chance to enjoy the facility now that the new school year is underway. The school has an enrollment of 4,865 students.
Several of the speakers at the ceremony paid tribute to students who are no longer at Fort Hamilton but who attended the school in the 2014-2015 school year and lobbied then-Councilmember Vincent Gentile to get the city to rebuild what was then a deteriorating field.
Gentile, a 1977 graduate of Fort Hamilton, was listening. He got to work, securing funding and then convincing Borough President Eric Adams to kick in additional monies. When Gentile’s time in the Council ended in 2017 due to term limits, his successor, current Councilmember Justin Brannan, kept the ball rolling by shepherding the renovation project to its completion.
It was the now-former students of Fort Hamilton who really made it happen, according to Gentile, who congratulated Principal Kaye Houlihan for encouraging the teens to speak out. “You believed in the program. You believed in the students. You believed in their ability to get it done,” he told Houlihan.
“They were the biggest advocates,” said Houlihan, referring to the now-former students.
“The students started the push and we appreciate their advocacy,” said Tamar Smith, community relations manager for the School Construction Authority. The SCA views the field as a place where students can compete, be healthy and enjoy the benefits of a well-rounded education, she said.
Houlihan said that as an educator, she sees the renovated field as a sign of the city’s commitment “to our students and our health.”
The 6-acre field now boasts artificial turf with built-in shock absorbers, a new running track painted in the school colors of blue and white, a new drainage system and several water fountains that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The work began in 2018 and was completed this spring.
“We have our own world class track and field right here,” said Brannan, who grew up in Bay Ridge and often came to the athletic field to hang out with his friends.
Fort Hamilton plays baseball, football and soccer games on the field, which sits directly behind the high school. Fort Hamilton High School is located at 8301 Shore Rd. The athletic field stretches from Narrows Avenue to Russell Pedersen Park on Colonial Road and from 83rd Street to 85th Street.
The first major event on the new field will be the Homecoming Game for the Fort Hamilton Tigers, the school football team, on Oct. 19.
Student Organization President Alex Aflak, a Fort Hamilton senior, said he is excited not only for his fellow students, but for the community as a whole. He noted that the athletic field serves two purposes. It is a high school facility and does double duty as a public park. The public is allowed to play on the field and run/walk around the track when the school isn’t using it.
Aflak said he hopes local residents made use of the field. “We want it to become a center of the community,” he told the Home Reporter.
Brooklyn Parks Commissioner Marty Maher, who served as master of ceremonies at the ribbon-cutting, also spoke about the athletic field’s dual role. “Now there’s a field for the neighborhood to enjoy and the school to enjoy,” he said.
State Sen. Andrew Gounardes, a 2003 graduate of Fort Hamilton, recalled that the last major renovation of the field was way back in 2001, when he was a sophomore.
Gounardes, who has run on the track in recent weeks, said the athletic field is top-notch. “This is a great field,” he said, adding that the facility “is a game-changer for our neighborhood.”