New York City opens cooling centers to help residents beat the heat


In the event you haven’t stepped outside in a week, New York is in the middle of a heat wave.

For some, access to cool places can only be sought outside of their homes, which is why the city runs a program designating neighborhood spots as cooling centers where people can walk in to cool down with the guarantee of a cold blast of air conditioning. 

For the most part, all libraries, community centers and senior centers are designated to be cooling centers by the city. 

Christopher Smith, branch manager at the Van Cortlandt Library, said so long as the air conditioning is running, all are welcome to come in and cool off. For a place like a public library, this is always the sentiment.


On Friday June 21, when the temperature reached 96 degrees, Smith said the air conditioning was running and the library was packed. The adult section of the library saw more people than usual and, as soon as school dismissal rolled around, children of all ages sought books and the cool air within the library walls. 

The library’s designation as a cooling center does not change its hours of operation, but Smith said the Van Cortlandt branch’s regular hours, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., align with the worst of the day’s heat for those seeking comfort. 

While libraries are well renowned gathering places year round, some of the designated cooling centers are not where you would expect.

The Petco on West 237 Street is marked as a cooling center but that does not mean residents seeking cold air will be met with a special area for that purpose. While the selection of Petco as a cooling center deviates from the typical community criteria, a service other locations do not provide that Petco does is permission for community members to bring in their pets, who may also need to beat the heat. 

Locations that have been established as cooling centers are activated when the National Weather Service forecasts weather reaching 95 degrees Fahrenheit for two or more days in a row, or when the temperature is predicted to reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit for any length of time. 

Riverdale Senior Services designation as a senior center immediately grants it status as a cooling center, according to guidelines set by the city’s aging department. 

Margie Schustack, director of communications and programs at Riverdale Senior Services, said when their building is open as a cooling center, anyone is welcome to come in, not just seniors. 

The center is open during the week from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. When acting as a cooling center, it stays open on Saturday and Sunday on a regular weekday schedule, which deviates from normal weekend closures.

Despite Senior Services staying open on the weekend during the hottest of times, Schustack said, many people don’t come in. 

“It’s been historically very light, but for those people who come they obviously really need it,” Schustack said. 

Outside of offering the community a place to cool down, Riverdale Senior Services has also worked in the past with helping people procure air conditioners, Schustack said, adding RSS has used programs like HEAP Cooling Assistance. 

The city’s Home Energy Assistance Program hands out air conditioners and fans to eligible city residents in a limited quantity each year. In order to qualify for the program, city residents must meet monthly income guidelines, be a U.S. citizen, and have a household member that has a health condition worsened by heat or live with someone 60 years of age or older or a child under the age of 6. 

The city’s push cooling centers are intended to keep city residents safe. Those without access to a cooler environment are at risk for heat related illnesses, according to the city’s 311 agency.

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