By Naeisha Rose
On the eve of LL Cool J’s 14th annual basketball camp in St. Albans, elected officials from southeast Queens and Comptroller Scott Stringer blasted the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation at a news conference for failing to fix a comfort station for three years.
“It’s time to wake up and get your act together,” Stringer said. “The kids should be running through the sprinkler and they should be able to use the bathroom in the safest way possible.”
According to officials from LL Cool J’s free basketball camp, nearly 200 campers are expected to attend the camp every weekend in August.
The comfort station, which is located on Daniel O’Connell Playground at 113-01 196th St., received nearly $1.2 million from former Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) and was expected to break ground in August 2015, with the project’s estimated completion time August 2016, according to officials at the Aug. 3 news conference.
“I’m disappointed to be back here on the same issue,” said Comrie, now a state senator. “LL Cool J, who grew up in this community and played in this park – this is his 14th year providing a free program for an entire month for young people in the community — and we have to give them port-a-potties that are not maintained.”
The updated comfort station was supposed to be fully renovated and include ADA-compliant bathrooms, energy-efficient light fixtures, and a slate roof, according to the officials. Instead, there were problems with the vendor hired to do the upgrades in 2016, and in 2017 the contractor had been removed after more than $400,000 of the original contract was spent. According to NYC Park’s Capital Project Tracker, money was spent on designing a new comfort station, procuring materials and doing 38 percent of construction work.
State Assemblyman Clyde Vanel (D-Queens Village) believes there is a lack of respect for the St. Albans community on the part of the Parks Department.
“This park in another district or another area wouldn’t have these kinds of problems,” said Vanel. “We don’t have a basic bathroom — a basic comfort station in a park. A park is a refuge.”
According to Stringer, 39 percent of 69 capital projects from NYC Parks that were audited have been delayed by up to three years and have gone $5 million over budget due to employment of private consultants hired to oversee the prime contractors.
In 2017, a City Council oversight hearing revealed that the cost to finish the reconstruction of the comfort station had ballooned to $1.7 million and new construction to nearly $3 million.
“This is an attack on communities of color,” said City Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans). “The local parks people — some of who live in this area — they keep it clean and do their due diligence, but they are working with whatever they have, and they have very limited resources to work with. Together we have made it work, but that is not our responsibility to make it work. It is the responsibility of the Parks Department.”
The timeline of the completion of the playground has been extended to August 2019, according to the elected officials.
Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose