Cambria Heights residents voice ideas and concerns at scope meeting for community playground set to undergo renovations

Cambria Heights Playground
Cambria Heights Playground located at 121st Ave. between 219th St. and 222nd St. on Francis Lewis Blvd. (Photo via city Parks Department)

After its last renovation 25 years ago, Cambria Heights Playground in southeast Queens is receiving a much-needed makeover. The city Parks Department held a scope meeting on Tuesday, April 20, seeking input from residents regarding their design plans for the site. 

During the virtual meeting, residents were asked what they would like to see included in the playground, which is set to undergo renovations as Borough President Donovan Richards and Councilman I. Daneek Miller each allocated $2 million in funding, totaling $4 million to reconstruct the site.

“I live up the block from this park, my son and I were just at the park a few weeks ago having a great time and we alternate between here and Laurelton Playground, but this park could use some improvement without a doubt from a safety standpoint,” Richards said. 

The community park, located on 121st Avenue between 219th Street and 222nd Street on Francis Lewis Blvd., also contains two large grass softball fields and resurfaced basketball and handball courts. According to Miller, the playground is the last of what needs to be upgraded in the park. 

“What has been highlighted over the past year is how important our outdoor space is and that we really have an opportunity to take advantage of that,” said Miller, who visits the park on Saturday mornings. “Bringing this project to the community is special. It’s really exciting that we get to define and plan on what the community looks like and public engagement is important.” 

Currently, the outdated playground’s equipment and safety surface is peeling and in the spray shower area, there are drainage issues that need to be addressed and broken statues that pose a safety hazard, according to the Parks Department capital team. Additionally, the new welcome entrance would be improved, as well as an open paved area and fencing that could make better use of space, and a large planted area. 

During a breakout session, residents were split into three groups to discuss their ideas for the playground which include a bridge-type feature for the play equipment area, a garden with native plants and flowers, a shaded seating area with trees, painted games like hopscotch and shuffleboard, a new swing set for all age groups, a small track around the perimeter of the park, WIFI and solar power plug-ins and lighting. 

Jimmy Acevado, a longtime Cambria Heights resident who lives five blocks away from the playground, said a native garden would bring back the insects and butterflies that were once present in the neighborhood. 

“What should be native to the area is not so much,” Acevado said. “In my home, with all of the native plants we’ve grown, we are seeing all different birds that are coming back. Last year, there were a lot of butterflies, fireflies and dragonflies. We could have science to teach the children the importance of these types of plants and trees in the neighborhood, like the Japanese maples.” 

While the project is solely focused on the revitalization of the playground area, some residents expressed disappointment over the fact that the restrooms and field would not be upgraded as well. 

“Aesthetics is one thing but when you look at the field and how horrible that looks and how horrible the bathroom looks — if you’re concerned about aesthetics and statues — I think it would be important to take care of the bathroom facilities, especially in the midst of a pandemic, instead of worrying about statues,” Natasha Gray-Jossainte said. 

Resident Constance Higdon also questioned why the restrooms are not part of the revitalization process, which she says is deemed necessary. 

According to Diane Dreier, a member of the Parks Department capital team, there are a lot of drainage issues at the park, which requires more maintenance and funding.  

“We will not be doing any upgrades into the comfort station at all — it will just be addressing the park by putting in new play equipment, fencing, pavement, planting material and new drainage structures underground and other utilities,” Dreier said. 

Additionally, the broken statues in the park will not be replaced and new drinking fountains will be installed and new water bottle fillers, according to Dreier, who also said that staff members do restock soap, toilet paper, and make sure the hand blowers are functioning properly in the restrooms. 

According to Dreier, the timeline for a capital project is between 30 to 45 months. 

“Our designs usually take about a year, and in about four to five months we will come back to the community board to show you what we hope to be an acceptable schematic plan that will have all the input given to us,” Dreier said. 

After the procurement process, which is about seven to 10 months consisting of legal reviews, bid reviews, and determination and comptroller approval, the contract usually takes about a year to build, according to Dreier. 

For those who are interested in the project and would like to give their input, visit nyc.gov./parks/input. Residents can also contact the project outreach coordinator, Sara Baral at 718-520-5965 or email: sara.baral@parks.nyc.gov