Garden School play space now officially a city park

By Rebecca Henely

After years of negotiation, fund-raising and a near-loss of the land forever, the city Parks Department said its acquisition of the private Garden School’s playground in Jackson Heights is complete.

“We are pleased to announce the sale of the field to the city of New York,” President Arthur Gruen and Headmaster Richard Marotta, of the Garden School, said in the statement. “Working with the city was terrific.”

Due to financial troubles, the Garden School, a private K-12 school at 33-16 79th St. in Jackson Heights, decided to sell its 24,600-square-foot asphalt play yard for more than $5 million.

Since Jackson Heights is densely populated but incredibly short on park space, City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) raised $4 million and Borough President Helen Marshall raised $1 million to buy the park.

But at the end of 2010, the Garden School thought its financial situation was too precarious and wanted the money within a shorter time frame than would be needed to complete the city’s months-long Uniform Land Use Review Procedure. The play area was put up for sale.

Civic members and residents eager to keep the park within the community quickly mobilized, creating a fund to raise money for the Garden School’s immediate needs. Meanwhile, Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson worked with the Garden School’s leaders to close a sale and the mayor’s office chipped in another $1 million.

The city announced the $6 million sale in March 2012, but the acquisition was not completed until Friday.

“Every New Yorker should have access to adequate parks and recreational opportunities,” Dromm said in a statement. “The residents of Jackson Heights deserve this.”

The acquisition of the playground will act as a de facto extension of Travers Park, at 34th Avenue between 77th and 78th streets. Recently a part of 78th Street was permanently closed for a play street, which will connect with the Garden School lot and effectively double the park space.

The city has opened 229 school playgrounds across all five boroughs to the public during non-school hours through its Schoolyards to Playgrounds program, but this will be the first time the city has done so with a private school’s yard. The yard will be for school use only from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays during the academic year.

Parks will install a property line fence separating the park from the rest of the school. A final design for the play yard is also in progress, the department said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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