Retired educator says his dream of waterfront science lab still alive

June 18, 2019 Paula Katinas
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Thomas Greene’s dream lives!

Greene, a  retired Fort Hamilton High School assistant principal, has been advocating for many years for the city to build a science lab on the Bay Ridge waterfront for students to learn about marine life and the environment.

After years of seeing his dream rejected or put on the back burner by local officials, Greene may finally be making some progress in his goal.

Greene recently wrote to the New York City School Construction Authority and heard back from CEO Lorraine Grillo. “She wants to meet with us,” he told the Home Reporter in an email.

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The SCA is the agency responsible for building schools in New York City.

Greene, who taught science at Fort Hamilton for more than 25 years, recently amended his original science lab proposal, changing the name to “Marine Eco Field Station” and moving the location for the proposed facility from Denyse Wharf, a pier at the foot of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, to a piece of city-owned property just outside the entrance to the pier. The property he is eyeing falls under the jurisdiction of the city’s Parks Department.

Denyse Wharf, which dates back to the Revolutionary War, is owned by the U.S. Army and is considered part of the Fort Hamilton Army Base. Even if he got the city to construct the lab on Parks Department property, Greene would still need to obtain permission from Fort Hamilton to gain access to the waterfront via Denyse Wharf.

Still, he’s excited about the latest developments.

“It probably has to do with our new amended proposal for an ‘EcoLab,’” Greene said, referring to the SCA’s interest in his idea.

Greene, who is also an adjunct professor at Kingsborough Community College, formed two grass-roots organizations, New York State Marine Education Association and Friends of Denyse Wharf, to continue to push for the proposed project.

The Friends group conducts periodic cleanups of the wharf, gathering volunteers, including high school students, and removing old tires, pieces of driftwood and other debris from the pier.

The science lab proposal has been submitted to Mayor Bill de Blasio, the Department of Education, the SCA, the Parks Department, Community Board 10 and local elected officials.

Councilmember Justin Brannan, a Democrat who represents Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and parts of Bensonhurst, said he is eager to hear more about the proposed project.

“A marine science lab in Bay Ridge?  Kids would love it! I look forward to seeing how this progresses with the new involvement from SCA,” Brannan told the Home Reporter.

Under Greene’s vision, the lab would provide a place for students at all grade levels the chance to study marine life, water quality and the effects of climate change on local waterways. There is a dearth of science labs in the city’s public school system, he said, adding that a waterfront educational facility would help alleviate that problem.

“In addition, there is a need to provide middle school and high school students with a regional lab to do science research projects for the local and national science fair competitions,” Greene wrote in his proposal.

The lab would involve instruction in several subject areas, including biology, chemistry, earth science, physics, math and engineering. It would also allow students to hone their communications skills, according to Greene, who said kids would have to write down their scientific findings.

“Why build a lab on the shore? New York City is an island city with more than 500 miles of coastline,” Greeen wrote. “Most students live within a mile of the ocean, yet, they have only a slight acquaintance, and a poor understanding of the marine world.”

An added bonus to the lab would be to give kids the chance to enjoy hands-on learning as they marien pollution, global warming and climate change, he said.

The effort to clean up Denyse Wharf continued as dozens of volunteers showed up on June 2 to help get rid of old tires, glass, scrap metal and plastics that washed up ashore. Greene called it “another successful clean-up.”

The participants included students from Bay Ridge schools, as well as members of the Harbor Seals Swim Team. The cleanup was supervised by Blanca Ching, a science teacher from Fort Hamilton High School, Fred and Maria Fritsch from the Bay Ridge Aquatics Institute. The city’s Department of Environmental Protection provided the group with a dumpster to cart away the trash.  

The cleanup also included water quality research demonstrations Kingsborough Community College students. After the work was completed, the volunteers got to enjoy a kayak demonstration.

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