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January 18, 2022

Cooper Park Commons

Cooper Park Commons

Hidden away in a corner of North Brooklyn across the street from Cooper Park is the former site of Greenpoint Hospital, which was decommissioned in 1982. Attempts to redevelop the five-acre property, which consists of the main hospital building and seven outbuildings, have been frustrated by decades of corruption, lawsuits, and strong community opposition to plans without ample affordable housing. As of now, much of the property remains abandoned and fenced off from the surrounding community.  

Recently, a team consisting of Hudson Companies Inc., Project Renewal, and St. Nick’s Alliance have crafted a development plan known as Cooper Park Commons that has won favor from the local community and City Hall. Though the redevelopment plan is still awaiting approval following the city’s public review process, support appears to be very strong, because it creates 557 units of affordable housing across three buildings, better integrates the property into the community, and includes greenspaces that can be accessed by future residents and the public.

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Joseph Moyer, associate principal at Magnusson Architecture and Planning (MAP), says he hopes to have the rezoning in place as early as next year, as this means work at the site could begin as early as June 2022. If approved, the project will retrofit three buildings on the former hospital campus and see the construction of two new buildings, one of which will be an 18-story, Passive House tower known as Cooper Park Commons Building 2 that is currently on the site of a parking lot. The plan may also serve as a lodestar to developers by illustrating that inclusivity, affordability, and high-performance building methods make for a winning combination when attempting to redevelop a property.  

An Excellent Building

Designed by MAP with associate architect Architecture Outfit and sustainability consultant Steven Winter Associates, Cooper Park Commons Building 2 has drawn a great deal of attention independent of its association with the Cooper Park Commons plan. The 311-unit building is still in the design phase and has already received a Buildings of Excellence award from the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency (NYSERDA). The award recognizes high-efficiency designs that can be easily replicated at a relatively low cost, thereby helping New York State in its efforts to hit some of the country’s most ambitious climate targets. Additionally, NYSERDA stipulates that award recipients’ designs must improve the safety, health, and comfort of occupants. 

Sara Bayer, associate principal and director of sustainability at MAP, also noted that the project was one of five recipients to receive the additional distinction of a Blue Ribbon for Design Excellence from NYSERDA. 

Building 2 had already been planned to optimize tenant comfort and health by pursuing PHI certification prior to winning the Buildings of Excellence award, but the additional funding that comes along with the prize has given them the opportunity to explore options to further improve tenant comfort and safety. According to Moyer, these include an analysis of possible battery backup for the building’s large PV systems, as well as increasing the size of the generator to be able to handle more than what’s required by code. “In the event of an outage, we’re not just providing power to the emergency systems,” Moyer says, but also to a few refrigerators and select outlets. The generator could also partially power the building’s VRF systems to ensure that select communal rooms continue to receive heating and cooling while the grid is down. 

Beyond providing occupants with comfort and safety during outages and weather extremes, there is a conspicuous attention to creating spaces within the building that foster a sense of community and take into consideration the social dimensions of how people utilize these spaces. The laundry room, for example, is not isolated away in a dungeonlike basement. Instead, it is situated on the first floor and opens out to the courtyard of the U-shaped building. It also looks onto a children’s playroom. This means children can play in the courtyard or the playroom while their parents are doing laundry. 

According to Matt Scheer, director of communications at MAP, this strategy is standard practice at the firm. “We always try to be sure those common spaces are connected to some nice outdoor spaces,” he says. 

Becoming a Standard Standard

Moyer believes that Building 2 will take approximately 30 months to build and is optimistic that construction will stay close to schedule. “The Hudson Companies has a partnership with a GC called Broadway Builders,” he explains, and they are already advising MAP “about materials that we should consider and alternatives, because they’ve seen issues with availability and cost.” Planning ahead for potential materials shortages and remaining flexible ensure that these roadblocks can be avoided. “Hopefully Building 2 will be occupied in three to four years,” Moyer adds.

However, foresight alone doesn’t account for Moyer’s optimism. Broadway Builders has a strong relationship with the Hudson Companies, and the Hudson Companies strives to pursue Passive House certification on its new buildings. By prioritizing building to the Passive House standard, Hudson Companies has encouraged several members of the Broadway Builders team to become Passive House certified installers. As Broadway Builders has become increasingly accustomed to working on Passive House buildings, they can better advise MAP about using alternative materials that do not minimize performance and help keep construction on schedule. 

Scheer echoes Moyer’s point, adding that the affordable housing industry overall has been instrumental in spreading the popularity of Passive House and enhanced building standards in general, thereby making them more common—or standard. Scheer adds that this shift is largely attributable to public funding agencies adopting stringent sustainability standards that encourage the industry to exceed code minimums. “Passive House is a term that people have become very familiar with…and everybody that we talk to at least knows it, at least knows what they think about it, and there has become a lot more acceptance of it even within the last couple of years,” he notes.

Moyer has noticed a similar trend among the contractors he’s worked with in New York City. As more high-performance building techniques are being increasingly employed on construction sites within the city, more contractors are comfortable doing a Passive House project. “I would say that all the contractors that we ask want to do a Passive House project,” Moyer said. “They see the future, and they want to get that experience.”

Bayer observes that the trend extends beyond New York City and that it has received additional support due to agencies like NYSERDA. “I think New York has a great approach,” she says.







Box Out: The Bumpy History of Greenpoint Hospital 

Brooklyn’s Greenpoint Hospital opened its doors in 1915 as a five-acre complex located at the intersection of three working class neighborhoods—Greenpoint, Williamsburg, and Bushwick. By the end of the 1950s, the municipal hospital had become outdated and it was viewed as a dangerous relic that offered patients second-rate medical care. By the late 1960s, it had fallen into such a state of disrepair that one administrator evidently failed to address a fly infestation or get the institution’s screens fixed (for two years) because other “emergencies kept coming up.” Eventually, calls for a state-of-the-art hospital to better serve North Brooklyn led to the construction of nearby Woodhull Hospital, which finally replaced Greenpoint Hospital in 1982. 

Before shuttering its doors, however, the city had devised a plan with local community groups—Neighborhood Women and the St. Nick’s Alliance—to convert the primary hospital building into a nursing home and the outbuildings to senior housing. The city backed out of the deal, however, and instead put the main building to use as a 1,100-bed men’s homeless shelter. Years of bickering and a lawsuit followed that the two groups ultimately won in 1990. Consequently, many of the outbuildings were converted into affordable housing, one building became a community center, and the number of beds for the men’s shelter was significantly reduced. 

Several ideas about how the remainder of the campus could be developed have been proposed in the interim years, but efforts have been repeatedly frustrated. The plan currently under consideration will rehabilitate the main hospital building and Cooper Park Commons Building One—the only outbuilding on the site that has remained abandoned since 1982—while also allowing for the construction of two new buildings, Cooper Park Commons Building 2 and Cooper Park Commons 4. This process will be divided into two phases. The first phase of the project will involve the construction of Building 2, renovating Building 1, and then moving the men’s shelter from the hospital’s main building to its permanent home at Building 1. The second phase will see the construction of a Building 4 and the renovation of the main hospital building, which will then become affordable housing for seniors. 

Heating energy 1.85 kBtu/ft2/yr
Cooling energy 1.70
Site energy 21.7
Airtightness 0.60 ACH50 (designed)

Author
Jay Fox

Jay Fox

Jay Fox is a writer and musician based in Asheville, NC. His work has appeared in Crain’s New York, Salon, Stay Thirsty Magazine, Aethlon, a...

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