By Dustin Brown
A brand new set of play equipment has opened for the patter of children’s feet at Juniper Valley Park, where the Parks Department erected the modest set of bars and slides to replace a larger playground some residents had complained was dangerous.
“I’m very grateful, and they did it very quickly,” said Tiffany Elliott, an officer with the Juniper Park Civic Association who petitioned the Parks Department to replace the equipment.
The new playground consists of a single climbing unit about five feet off the ground with a wide base bounded by vertical bars. The children can get down from the platform through any of six different openings, each of which leads to a staircase, a slide or a ladder.
It replaces a playground installed in 1990 that Elliott said had numerous safety hazards, such as large bolts protruding from a jungle gym, bars that could trap a child’s head and too few guardrails. Furthermore, she said much of the old equipment was made from wood that has been treated with a preservative made from arsenic, a known carcinogen that can leach out of the lumber and onto the surface of the wood.
But Elliott said many parents have recently approached her to complain that the new playground is so much smaller than what it is replacing.
“I saw the plans, so I knew it was going to be small, but I didn’t realize how small it was going to be,” she said. “I just keep hearing complaints from everybody.”
A Parks Department spokesman said the agency’s first concern was to resolve the safety concerns, and it was prepared to add to the playground as soon as funding comes available.
“The Parks Department would be very interested in doing a full reconstruction of the playground, and if funding comes available, that would be one of our priorities for Queens,” the spokesman said Monday. “At the present time, though, there is no funding for it.”
The project was financed with $180,000 allocated by City Councilman Dennis Gallagher (R-Middle Village), who requested that money originally set aside for a delayed park project be used for the Juniper playground.
“The play equipment there was unsafe,” Gallagher said Monday in a phone interview. “The play equipment that was put in is smaller than I think what even I had anticipated, but certainly it’s safe and it meets all the criteria.”
“We’re hoping that we can make that part of a capital project to redo the whole Upper Juniper Park area,” he continued. “This will serve as a temporary measure.”
Although the playground was not especially crowded Monday afternoon, the few children who were playing there appeared to have acclimated well to the new equipment.
“She loved the old stuff,” said Peter Comer as he watched his 3-year-old daughter Olivia run around the equipment. Judging from her wide grin, she liked the new stuff just as much.
Although Comer said he was glad any potential safety hazards had been resolved, the new playground did not entirely meet his expectations.
“This place gets crowded,” he said. “I was hoping it would be bigger.”
Other parents were simply happy to have a place for the children to play.
“Before it was more tough for kids under 3 years old. Sometimes they get hurt,” said Daisy Laskar, who visited the playground Monday afternoon with her 5-year-old son and 2-1/2-year-old daughter. “Now I feel very comfortable to sit here and relax.”
But even the safest equipment cannot truly soften a parent’s nerves as Laskar soon discovered when her daughter Sarin slipped through a sloping ladder and dangled in the air with her hands clutching the bars.
“Oh, my goodness,” Laskar yelped as she jumped from her seat along the edge of the play area.
Still, Sarin never lost her cool, braving the short leap to the ground and then running back from another go at it.
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.