See you in September?
It will be another summer without a playground for Sunset Park’s namesake oasis.
The play area, which began its long-awaited reconstruction in April of 2016, was slated to open this spring , then June 1, and is now scheduled to open in September, much to the dismay of Sunset Park parents and children, some of whom learned about the delay during Community Board 7’s Wednesday, April 19 monthly meeting.
The board discovered the setback, according to District Manager Jeremy Laufer, after visiting the New York City Parks Department’s site that tracks the progress of the construction, which currently reads that it is 36 percent complete.
Livid at both the lack of communication and the long delay, Sunset mother and assistant principal at FDR High School Elizabeth Messmann organized a rally on Saturday, April 21 outside the gated playground.
“For children, playgrounds are a big part of socialization, and even parents socialize,” she said. “It’s a place for neighbors to congregate. I think as an educator, you see firsthand the snowballing effect of not having quality outdoor space for students.”
Her husband Victor, who has followed the lack of progress from the beginning, also voiced his frustration. “I have a three-year-old and that’s my main motivation,” he said. “We were promised it was going to be reopened for the spring this year. That park services thousands of kids. It’s always crowded. The only green space at a playground is like 34 blocks away.”
He also mentioned he feels that Parks Department hasn’t fulfilled its promises. “They told me it was on track and they were going to finish in the spring and that was in January,” he said, noting also that the agency had not fulfilled other promises it made to the neighborhood. “We were promised while we were constructing the playground that they would organize activities or have temporary playground equipment because it’s the only playground we have. But that never happened.”
Councilmember Carlos Menchaca’s office released a statement regarding the manner, noting that the councilmember “demands a full accounting of all capital projects [at the park], including pool repairs, rec center improvements, and the replacement of paths and benches in addition to the long-delayed children’s playground. The audit… should include full disclosure of details about current and upcoming project timelines, contractor information and construction quality analysis.”
Contacted for comment, Maeri Ferguson, a spokesperson for the Parks Department, said the agency is attempting put the playground construction on the fast track. “Parks is doing everything we can to expedite this project, and I should have a more specific update for you later this week,” she said.
Elizabeth believes the Sunset community needs to be more of a priority. “The community isn’t that quick to mobilize for whatever reason,” she said. “There may be some apathy among the constituency because they are not used to getting treated as other neighborhoods are treated. If it was happening to neighbors to the north or south, people would be mobilizing in larger numbers, and forcing the issue. There’s no accountability or oversight for the Parks Department here.”
“(Elected officials) should’ve been following it,” Victor added. “I knew and lots of people knew it wouldn’t be finished on time. It’s sad. I used to live in Windsor Terrace and they finished a playground in eight months there.”
“It’s unfair to the children that our leaders cannot deliver on their promises to the community,” added Delvis Valdes, who is running for the 38th City Council seat.
The $3 million-plus renovation, funded by Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council, will bring new play equipment, swings, a spray shower and other amenities to the park’s playground at 44th Street and Sixth Avenue.