A long neglected Gravesend playground is getting plenty of attention from the de Blasio administration these days.
Lafayette Playground, a 1.19-acre site that consists of nothing more than patches of concrete and asphalt, is undergoing a $4.5 million renovation by the Department of Parks and Recreation. The construction work is already underway, according to officials, who said the project is expected to be competed by the end of the summer of 2019.
The project is part of the Community Parks Initiative, a program Mayor Bill de Blasio started in 2014 to have the city take a second look at parks and playgrounds in densely populated neighborhoods that had not been renovated in several years. To date, the city has spent $318 million to re-do 60 parks under the program.
Brooklyn Parks Commissioner Martin Maher presided over a ceremony inside Lafayette Playground, located at the corner of Stillwell and Benson avenues, to mark the symbolic groundbreaking for the project on Oct. 25.
When construction is complete and the newly renovated playground is unveiled, Gravesend residents will find a new, inviting recreational space that will include playground equipment for kids, as well as an adult fitness area, basketball courts, a walking trail, a picnic area and a section of synthetic turf where people can practice tai chi or yoga.
Councilmember Mark Treyger, a Democrat who represents Coney Island, Gravesend and parts of Bensonhurst, and who pushed the de Blasio administration to include Lafayette Playground in the Community Parks Initiative after becoming miffed that no parks in Southern Brooklyn had been included in the first round of projects, said Gravesend residents deserve an outstanding recreational area.
“If you look at what was here, it really was just a concrete triangle,” he said. “You deserve more than just broken-up concrete.”
Treyger said he is envisioning the park as a space for community-sponsored events.
There are bound to be plenty of students using the park.
Lafayette Playground sits across the street from the Lafayette Education Complex, a building that houses five small high schools, Kingsborough Early College School, the International High School at Lafayette, the Expeditionary Learning School for Community Leaders, the High School of Sports Management, and Life Academy High School for Film and Music. Two other schools, John Dewey High School and P.S. 212, are located a few blocks away.
For years, the barren playground has mostly served as a shortcut for students on their way from Stillwell Avenue to the Lafayette campus, said Randi Garay, PTA president of P.S. 212. “Kids would cut across the park to get to school,” she told this newspaper.
The best part about the renovation, according to Maher, is that local residents sat down with Parks Department officials to help design the new playground. And their ideas were taken serious by the experts, he said. “This is not our design. This is your design,” he told residents at the groundbreaking.
Samantha Day, vice president of the PTA at P.S. 212, said she recently moved into the neighborhood and was happy to hear that residents were so heavily involved with the project. “I’m glad the community is taking ownership of this park. It’s good that we are working to provide a safe space for our children,” she told this newspaper.
Even though the playground was not a particularly inviting space, local residents still tried to find ways to use it, said Judi Barreca, PTA president of John Dewey High School. “Some of the older people played softball here,” she told this newspaper.
As she looked over the spot where Maher and other officials had posed for pictures with shovels to mark the groundbreaking moments earlier, Garay said she is looking forward to the grand re-opening. “I think it’s fabulous that the city is finally doing something with this park,” she said.