By Karen Frantz
A number of seniors are upset that a facility in Cunningham Park used for socializing has shortened the number of hours it is open and are demanding that the city Parks Department restore the original hours.
“There’s no reason why it can’t be open four or five days a week,” said Ed Shehab, who lives in Kew Gardens and is one of the seniors angry about the shortened hours. “It’s a shame, it really is.”
He said the center, which used to be a pre-K school and is unofficially used as a place for seniors to congregate in the park near 193rd Street, previously was open for 30 hours a week. He said many seniors gather there to use the Wi-Fi, play cards, chess and pool or in the winter to take a break from the cold.
This fall the hours were scaled back to only a few hours a day three days a week, he said.
“Three hours a day doesn’t cut it for these people,” Shehab said. “There’s so many people that use the building.”
Shehab said he believes it does not take a lot of money to keep the center open and pointed to the large sum of money spent on a ball field elsewhere in the park as evidence of Parks spending funds on projects that favor young people. He said before the hours were reduced the facility appeared to have about three people working there.
So Shehab decided to take action. He and about 20 other seniors who use the facility sent a petition to Community Board 8 and City Councilmen Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) and James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) Nov. 19, asking for the regular hours to be restored.
The petition notes that the center used to be open five days a week, six hours a day, but now is only open between 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. three days a week for a total of 10.5 hours a week.
“This is very unfair,” the petition says. “The cold weather is coming and we have an average of 20 to 25 senior citizens who utilize the facility every day.”
The petition also says two phone calls were made to Iris Rodriguez-Rosa, the Queens chief of recreation for Parks, about the matter, but they were not returned.
Rodriguez-Rosa told the Times Ledger Newspapers after an inquiry that it was the first she had heard of the petition.
A Parks representative contradicted the seniors’ claims the facility was open only three days a week, saying the department provides free programs that include fitness, crafts and games at the center for four hours a day, four days each week.
The representative said it adjusts schedules in response to participation trends and that there are four nearby senior centers in CB 8 that offer similar activities.
Gennaro’s office said it had not received the petition but someone had showed up to make a complaint about the reduced hours. The office said Gennaro would support efforts to restore hours, but the park is not in his district.
Weprin’s office said it had put in a call to Rodriguez-Rosa about the issue and was waiting to hear back.
Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4538.