OCEAN BREEZE — After nine years of planning and delays, the city finally broke ground Thursday on a new indoor horse riding arena designed to help children and adults with a range of disabilities.
The $5.8 million Ocean Breeze Riding Arena will have a nearly 5,800 square-foot riding arena, stables, areas for grooming and feeding horses, a lobby and an observational room for visitors when it opens in summer 2015, the Parks Department said at Thursday's groundbreaking.
Designed in 2012 but delayed when Hurricane Sandy ripped through the neighborhood, it will serve as the new headquarters for Helping Others Overcome Personal Handicaps (HOOPH), a therapeutic riding program that offers physical and occupational therapy to people age 3 to 21 whose issues range from mild learning disabilities to autism, to head injuries, muscular dystrophy, amputations or other health challenges, according to the agency's website.
Megan Delmar, program director for HOOPH, said the facility can't open soon enough, since her agency currently works with 60 to 80 clients outdoors during the warmer months, but has to suspend programming in the winter and board its horses in New Jersey.
"We're hoping to really increase those numbers now that we have a year-round facility," she said Thursday. "The building really will help defeat all those obstacles. It feels amazing."
Each person accepted into HOOPH gets weekly 30-minute sessions with horses, which helps them improve their posture, strengthen their muscles, boost patience and increase self-confidence, the group said.
One to two volunteers walk alongside the horses to help clients stay on, if necessary, until they can maintain their own balance, the group said.
While the arena generally will be used only for HOOPH programs, Delmar said she plans to open the horseback riding program to children who don't qualify for HOOPH during the summer. The public will also be invited to come and visit the horses.
The project was co-designed by the Parks Department and the Department of Design and Construction in 2012, and funded by the Borough President's office.
"I'm happy to say that this is officially back on track," new Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver said Thursday at the groundbreaking.
The Ocean Breeze Riding Arena will sit next to the under-construction Ocean Breeze Track and Field building, expected to be completed in 2014. The sites, on Father Capodanno Boulevard near Seaview Avenue, will make up the new Ocean Breeze Park, which spans more than 110 acres on a piece of land that was formerly part of a tidal meadow, the Parks Department said.
"Ocean Breeze Park is transforming into a great destination for both Staten Islanders and visitors alike," Silver said. "Great things are going on in Ocean Breeze Park."