Parks Reveals Whelan Playground Plan
Woodhaven residents voiced satisfaction with a Parks Department plan to renovate Forest Park’s Mary Whalen Playground during a scoping meeting held last Tuesday, June 10, at the nearby Oak Ridge headquarters.
City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley and the Parks Department hosted the event, during which project manager Ricardo Hinkl provided details of transforming the playground into a modern play area reflecting the park’s natural beauty.
Located near Forest Parkway and Park Lane South, the semi-circular Whelan Playground was built during the 1940s and sits at the bottom of a steep hill formed by an Ice Age glacier hundreds of thousands of years ago, Hinkl stated. The playground base is flat, but it lies three feet above the Park Lane South sidewalk’s level.
The Parks Department last renovated Whelan Playground in 1991, and signs of wear and tear became more prominent in recent years, according to Hinkl. The asphalt area surrounding a spray shower is cracked; a concrete retaining wall around the swing areas near Park Lane South is eroding.
Certain playground equipment is also outdated, Hinkl advised, noting the 10′ swings for older children and teens do not meet American Society for Testing Material standards.
Moreover, a ramp leading into Whelan Playground has a 20 percent slope, far too steep to be considered compliant with provisions in the Americans with Disabilities Act, he added.
“The asphalt is in poor to fair shape. The retaining wall is in poor shape. The fencing is in poor to fair shape.,” he told the audience. “So everything needs to be replaced.”
The playground’s cumbersome design requires correction, Hinkl added. Play areas for young children lie in the rear of the playground, far away from the street; swingsets for both preschoolers and older children face the street; and teenagers tend to use an open asphalt area at the heart of the playground, getting in the way of younger children.
Crowley provided $1 million in City Council funding for the project, while Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski earmarked $180,000 in the department’s budget toward repairing fences and retaining walls.
The Parks Department will install a secondary ramp leading into Whelan Playground from Park Lane South with a grade of 1 to 2 percent, as required in the ADA. New trees will be provided around the playground to increase a natural, cooling canopy during the spring and summer.
New play units for preschoolers (two to five years old) and elementary school children (ages five through 12) will be installed near the fencing facing Park Lane South, while preschool and new 8′-tall swings will be installed in the southwest and northeast corners of the playground, respectively.
A new teen court play area will be created in the rear of Whelan Playground; the children will choose how it is used based on the activities they hold there, Hinkl added.
The Parks Department will also include a new water play feature in the center of the park.
All of the new equipment and features to be installed will reflect the nature of Forest Park and the Terminal Morasse, the steep hill on which the playground sits, Hinkl stated. Play equipment will be painted in natural colors such as brown and spring green and boulders will be sporadically placed in and around the playground.
The new trees coming to the playground also match those currently found throughout Forest Park, including the sugar maple and the scarlet oak, reflecting the park’s natural history.
“We’re reusing as much of the infrastructure as we can to save money and reduce debris,” Hinkl added. “We’re trying to keep what we can and replace what we can’t.”
While residents warmly received the proposal, others-such as Ed Wendell of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association-urged the Parks Department to fund the construction of a new comfort station. Reportedly, Whelan Playground once had a bathroom area, but it was torn down decades ago.
Parks officials indicated it would investigate whether to construct a bathroom at the location as a separate project. Community Board 9 member James Coccovillo agreed.
“The neighborhood has always said, ‘Let’s do something with [the playground],'” he said. “This is an excellent layout and design. … The comfort station would be great, but we don’t want to slow down progress.”
Board 9 is expected to offer its recommendation for or against the project at an upcoming meeting. Once the review and contractual bidding process is complete, the reconstruction will begin.
Hinkl estimated a shovel will be in the ground at Whelan Playground within the next year, and work should take a full year to complete.