By Dustin Brown
A visit to Queensbridge Park on any evening shows the bustle of activity on a property that only a decade ago was all but forsaken by the neighborhood.
Softball teams compete on the diamond beneath overhead lights, the crack of bats mingling with children’s cries at Vernon Playground and the melodies of a waterfront jazz concert.
But despite the popularity of the rediscovered park, excited youngsters and concert-goers sated with soda have been relegated to portable bathrooms since no functioning restroom facility existed on the property.
On Sept. 26, City Councilman Walter McCaffrey joined Community Board 1 District Manager George Delis and Parks Commissioner Henry Stern at Queensbridge Park to break ground on a new comfort station, which will include handicapped-accessible restrooms.
“It means a great deal because there is nowhere for people to go to the bathroom now,” said Elizabeth McQueen, president of Friends of Queensbridge Park, which lobbied McCaffrey to allocate funding for the facility.
Queensbridge Park occupies about 20 acres on Vernon Boulevard in Long Island City, sandwiched between the Queensboro Bridge to the south and KeySpan’s Ravenswood power plant to the north. Directly across the street are the Queensbridge Houses, the largest public housing project in the nation.
Although a comfort station already exists on the property, it stands boarded up on the park’s southern tip alongside the edge of the Queensboro Bridge, only feet from the barbed-wire fence cordoning off the pavement beneath its span. Constructed of red brick mostly covered in a thick coat of maroon paint, the facility had to be closed because vandals had pulled out pipes and damaged the structure.
“It was very important for us to get another comfort station built there because the old one has been vandalized so badly that the cost to redo it would be tremendous,” McQueen said.
The new $850,000 facility, to be constructed alongside Vernon Playground on the northeastern corner of the park, is the latest in a series of improvements funded by McCaffrey that have lifted the park out of a shadow cast by under-use and disrepair.
“At one point people wouldn’t even go to the park,” McQueen said. “There were a lot of vagrants hanging around in there, drugs were being used down there. People were just generally afraid to go.”
In 1996 the Vernon Playground was rebuilt, followed by the reconstruction of the ballfields in 1998 and the installation of floodlights for them in 2000, projects that encouraged more residents to enjoy the park.
“The park itself means a great deal to the immediate residents of Queensbridge,” McQueen said. “All they have to do is walk across the street for their kids to be in a sort of safe haven.”
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.