A playground in Long Island City will get a $4.5 million renovation but some parents argue that a crucial part of the park should be included in the renovation plans.
Bordered by Crescent and 28th streets between 36th and 37th avenues, Dutch Kills Playground is used by students from several schools including P.S. 112, I.S. 204 and the Baccalaureate School for Global Education. The park has not undergone major upgrades for almost 20 years.
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski announced on Nov. 15 a plan to reconstruct the park. Designs include upgraded play equipment, play spaces and safety surfacing for both younger and older children, renovated bathrooms and a shaded adult seating area.
The basketball and handball courts will be reconstructed and new landscaping will also provide additional green space.
But some parents whose children use the sports courts on 28th Street and 36th Avenue are frustrated because the space is not included in the plans for an upgrade. Antonia Martinez, who has been a Long Island City resident for 20 years, said that renovations are critical for the 150 to 200 kids who play tennis there every spring and summer.
The New York Junior Tennis League, which was founded by tennis legend Arthur Ashe in 1971, sets up three courts in that space and teaches tennis lessons to children ages 8 to 15 every spring and summer. The nonprofit provides free lessons and free equipment to children throughout the city.
Martinez’s children, ages 8, 10 and 13, all take lessons.
“Unfortunately the space [has] a lot of cracks and it’s very damaged,” Martinez said. “It’s a very old space. The kids trip a lot of times. They hurt themselves.”
She said that many of the children stay with the program and become coaches for NYJTL. Some have even gone on to receive college tennis scholarships.
“These kids are very talented,” she said. “They’ve been invited to the U.S. Open every year. We really want to have something good for the kids.”
Victor Santamaria, a coach whose daughter also plays tennis, said his daughter broke her knee at the court when she tripped on a crack.
Meghan Lalor, a spokesperson for the Parks Department, said that there was a “strong interest” from community members to improve the sports courts but that the playground and bathroom renovations ultimately won out.
“Public input is an integral part of any capital project that NYC Parks undertakes,” Lalor said. “While we are aware of a strong interest in reconstructing the sports courts, the decision to prioritize the playground and comfort station at this time was determined based on feedback also received from the community during the April input meeting. We look forward to moving forward with this $4.5 million improvement project in Dutch Kills Playground, and we would consider a future renovation of the sports courts, should additional funding become available.”
Richard Khuzami, the chair of the Parks and Cultural Services Committee for Community Board 1, said this is the first time he has heard about the issue but that he would like to help address it.
“From what I understand, there is no funding currently available for this, but on a yearly basis we have a capital projects lists,” he said. “We would definitely like to address it probably within the capital project list that we will put up next year.”