By Jeremy Walsh
City Councilwoman Helen Sears (D-Jackson Heights) and Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski broke ground Tuesday on the $1.6 million renovation project at Travers Park in Jackson Heights, but the response from some community members was a little less than enthusiastic.
“If it were not for her, this center area of the park … would not have been allocated for,” Lewandowski said, noting she hoped the Council would find future funds for the renovation of the park’s basketball courts.
Construction at the site began in September. The renovations include new spray showers, new chessboards and a new jungle gym for children ages 5 to 12. The area was designed by the city Parks Department’s own architects, Lewandowski said, noting the construction work is ahead of schedule and may finish before the slated fall 2010 deadline.
“This is probably the most overcrowded playground in the city for its size,” Sears said. “You need to look from time to time at how we can utilize the space available.”
But some neighbors are disappointed with the amount of input residents had in the process, while others are upset over losing one-third of the open space in the park for nine months.
Dudley Stewart, an organizer for the Jackson Heights Green Alliance, said his group was not informed of the groundbreaking ceremony.
“That’s kind of indicative of the process,” he said. “Helen Sears has barely consulted the community during the whole process.”
Stewart said the community would have been happier if it had been allowed to provide more feedback about the design of the new area and said the $1.6 million would have been better spent on expanding the park up to Northern Boulevard or blocking off 78th Street and converting that block to additional park space.
“I feel that the playground was perfectly usable,” he said. “I went there nearly every day with my kids. It was fine.”
The lower area of the playground underwent a renovation about five years ago that included a play structure for toddlers and a handball court.
Planning for the new renovation began around three years ago.
Sears said the plans for the park were available at the Community Board 3 office and that the trusteeship that owns the car dealership north of the park was not interested in selling the property.
“You don’t neglect what you have and let that go into decay to attempt the impossible,” she said. “This is a vast improvement and to say it’s not necessary is absurd.”
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.