Photo courtesy Daniel Dromm
By Rebecca Henely

Although the plan was almost derailed more than a year ago, City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) celebrated with government officials and civic leaders last Thursday the sale of the Garden School’s playground to the city.

“Finally, after a long process, we have a new park for Jackson Heights,” Dromm said.

The councilman had been instrumental in ensuring that the playground was sold to the city and not to a developer.

He announced the $6 million sale at the site of the playground, at 79th Street between 34th Avenue and Northern Boulevard, with Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson, Borough President Helen Marshall and members of the Garden School’s board, Jackson Heights Green Alliance and the Jackson Heights Beautification Group, among others.

“This was a wonderful collaboration between the city, community members and our private school,” said Garden School Headmaster Dr. Richard Marotta in a statement about the process.

The Garden School, a private K-12 institution at 33-16 79th St., had been planning to sell its playground to stave off revenue losses. Dromm secured $4 million and Marshall secured $1 million for the purpose, but the land needed to go through the months-long Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, and in December 2010 the school put the land up on the market for $5.5 million.

In response, community members mobilized through a fund set up by the Jackson Heights Green Alliance to pay the school’s immediate expenses. The alliance raised $500,000 in three months and received $1 million from a private foundation.

At the same time, Wolfson worked to negotiate the sale with the Garden School’s leaders. The mayor’s office also contributed the final $1 million to the purchase of the parkland.

“We are ecstatic to be getting more parkland in our neighborhood,” Will Sweeney, of the alliance, said in a statement. “This cherished space will be enjoyed by generations of Jackson Heights residents and families to come.”

As a city-owned park space, the playground will be used exclusively by Garden School students from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. while school is in session. Dromm said the city plans to make improvements to the playground, but he needs to secure more capital and that it will not happen until at least a year.

The councilman said 78th Street between 34th Avenue and Northern Boulevard is set to be closed to become a permanent play street. The closure combined with the purchase of the playground would double the park space in his congested district, which is currently 50th out of 51 districts in terms of park acreage.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us, but what’s so wonderful is that we have now signed on the dotted line and this is a done deal,” Dromm said.

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

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