Open Payne Park playground this summer, say Sunset parents, kids

June 27, 2018 Jaime DeJesus
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The kids want to play!

Dozens of parents and their children showed up outside the gated John Allen Payne Park Playground on Third Avenue between 64th and 65th Streets on Tuesday, June 26, upset that the renovation of the space has taken so long and demanding that the city open it in time for summer now that school is officially out.

According to the city’s Parks Department, the park was slated to open this past April, with construction on the $2.5 million project having begun a year earlier. However, the gates have yet to be opened for the many kids looking to have some fun in the sun.

Sunset Park mother of four Jovita Sosa, who organized the rally, is fed up with the excuses.

“I’ve been following up since April, thinking it would happen because the construction progress has been at this point since April and it’s more or less at the point where it looks just about to open,” she said.

During the rally, there were just two workers on site. While many aspects of the project appear near completion, there seems still to be plenty of work left to be done. Sosa said she was told the new projected date could be as late as early August.

“It seemed like everything was supposed to open on time and here we are,” she said. “It will be another lost summer. I don’t see this happening in any other neighborhood. I don’t think it will open [in early August] which is why we are here. New York City Parks tends to delay things and there’s always one excuse after another.”

Even if it is completed within the new time frame, parents said they wouldn’t be satisfied.

“I think even that would be too late,” Sosa said. “Today is when we need the playground. School ended. It would be awesome just to bring the kids here to a $2.5 million renovated park. “

Ercilia Castillo, who lives on 59th Street and runs a program for young Sunset kids, is also disappointed.

“We have a program called Read and Play that we do every summer and now we have to do in another park that is further away,” she said. “We need the park to open so all the kids can enjoy the summer and play there. Last year we had 100 kids..”

“I’m worried it will not be open until the end of summer,” added her son Jadiel.

Local Councilmember Carlos Menchaca is also concerned about the delay. “It is ridiculous that the Parks Department has been unable to follow its own self-imposed timeline, and doubly so when so many of us, especially those with families, were looking forward to enjoying the summer weather that has finally arrived,” he said in a letter.

Menchaca also said that he had spoken recently with Brooklyn Parks Commissioner Marty Maher. “I told the Parks Commissioner that the delay was unacceptable and that I would be moving forward with a plan to elevate our outrage to the City Council,” he said, contending that the delay is not an isolated incident but “part of a city-wide pattern affecting the Department of Parks and Recreation’s capital project process,” leading him to demand a City Council investigation of “the dysfunctional practices affecting our parks and communities.”

A Parks Department spokesperson told this paper in a statement, “We are excited to reopen this renovated playground to the community later this summer. Construction began last April, and we expect to open the playground in mid to late July. The delay was caused by a late delivery of the final piece of play equipment and we are in the process of working with the contractor to get it resolved as quickly as possible.”

However, parents have heard this before and now just want to see results.

“It’s terrible. Sometimes she says, ‘Grandma they still aren’t done with the park,’” said Anna Rodriguez, whose granddaughter has patiently awaited its reopening. “This park was so broken down for years. It was a health hazard. When they finally boarded it up to fix it we were happy, but then it took so long and it’s still not open.”

The temporary closure of the Sunset Park library has added to the difficulties faced by parents. “What are your options over the summer?” asked Sosa. “You go to the playground and you go to the library. We have neither, with the interim library being so far away. We’re all upset. It’s just really bad planning.”

Once completed, the park will include play structures with climbers and slides, a water spray system, timber blocks with play and climbing elements, a playhouse, accessible swings and more.

In the meantime, Menchaca said, a space for kids to play is needed now.

I am open to any and all ideas and encourage a community-based solution,” he said. “It will also give us some more leverage to push for a hearing or investigation.”

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