The grand opening at the new building on Northern Boulevard drew more than a dozen elected officials, as well as NYC Parks Department employees and local residents. After a three-song performance from the chorus group at Marie Curie Middle School and a slew of remarks from those who cherish the nature preserve, officials cut a piece of biodegradable green tape with mini scissors to officially mark the completion of the project.
But the center was already up and running on Monday. Two separate youth groups were visiting the center on educational trips and birds in the animal room by the entrance were chirping away just steps from the podium.
“It’s literally providing educational opportunities for our next generation of leaders who may get their first exposure to the environment, to parks, to taking care of animals, right here in our local community,” said U.S. Rep. Grace Meng, who was one of the several elected officials who do not represent the area, but celebrated the unveiling.
Meng also recounted taking her children here when they were going up and added that spending time in nature benefited her own mental health. District Attorney Melinda Katz shared that she invited educators from Alley Pond to her son’s 8th birthday party.
Council Member Sandra Ung recounted visiting the park with her friends who would bring their children there.
A patio furniture store formerly stood at the site of the new building decades ago. But after a group of nature-oriented community members joined forces with the NYC Parks Department, APEC was born at the property in 1976.
In 2006, the center raised funds to replace an outdated HVAC system in the former environmental center building. But board members realized that it would be more efficient to construct a new building rather than continue patching up the old one.
The new LEED certified building features a geothermal heating and cooling system and rainwater harvesting through bioswale channels and rain garden to reduce water consumption. Its design also features mostly floor to ceiling windows to allow natural light to flow through, while also conserving energy.
“This building truly represents the latest in our efforts to build sustainability in our new construction projects citywide,” said NYC Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue. “It’ll be a great learning tool for all the kids who come through here who will see and understand very clearly what it means to be environmentally friendly.”
Former City Council Member Paul Vallone, who represented Alley Pond Park from 2014 up until 2021 as part of District 19, recalled asking for funds to bring the project to completion. He added, “If this is a legacy project, I couldn’t think of anything better to be attached to.”
Alley Pond is now in District 26 under Council Member Vickie Paladino, who helped bring the project to the finish line. She shared that she “watched Alley Pond grow into what it has become” since the ’70s and recounted the burial of her sister’s parrot in park in 2016.
The Queens NYC Council Delegation allocated the majority of the funds for the project with $12 million. An additional $7 million came from the Borough President’s Office. The mayor’s office and New York state Senate also contributed $1 million each for the project that totaled $26 million.
Irene Scheid, the executive director of APEC, stepped into the role in 1990. But she began her time at the center as an intern a decade before.
“For 42 years, I’ve been lucky to come to work every day in a building filled with children so excited to be here and learn, and then leave with more consciousness of their role in the world,” said Scheid. “It is heartwarming to see staff members who began their careers here at APEC, some as high school students, and see what they have gone on to do with their lives and yet stay true to the values that they taught. APEC has a way of reeling people in and having them put their hearts into what they do.”
The center serves 80,000 children and adults in both the building, and classrooms across the city, every year. Four years ago, the environmental center moved to a temporary space to allow for the new construction which was also slowed by the pandemic.
“Our parks committee has been focused on the way in which our green spaces are not luxuries and shouldn’t be seen that way, but are essential spaces that everyone must have access to,” said Council Member Shekar Krishnan, who is Chair of the Council’s Parks and Recreation committee. “But as part of that, it’s about thinking about our parks and green spaces as on the forefront and central spaces for the fight to protect our climate. They are linked together.”
Paul Grossman, a fifth grade teacher from P.S. 98 in Douglaston, was the last to deliver remarks. In a letter he read from school principal Kristy Chan, she said that visiting the center is a “walking trip tradition” for the students that they will remember into adulthood.
“Alley Pond Environmental Center finally has this gorgeous, gorgeous, new home that it rightfully deserves. And now this center, as it has always been, will continue to be a true gem of Queens,” said Borough President Donovan Richards. “Places like Alley Pond aren’t guaranteed to be around forever. They only outlast us if we decide we want them to. So it’s on us to do our best to protect them.”
The new building is located at 229-10 Northern Blvd. in Douglaston. On Saturday, Dec. 9, they will host an an open house and concert with a performance from the Boomer Brothers.