Former Supporter Leads Fight Against P.S. 166 Playground Renovation Plan
UPPER WEST SIDE — Parents who had secured city approval for emergency safety changes at an injury-plagued local playground have run into a round of last-minute opposition that threatens to postpone their hoped-for start date by several months.
After months of pressing for repairs at Playground 89 at 89th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus, and securing an early-July start date, advocates of fixing up the playspace shared by P.S. 166 elementary school students and the community were shocked to find that a small group of parents and locals sued the Parks Department last week to halt the repairs.
"I find it very disturbing that all of a sudden out of the blue we have this opposition. I think it’s very disappointing," said Community Education Council member Rebecca Woodard, who was among the dozens of supporters who backed the plan.
The opposition is being spearheaded by P.S. 166 parent Laurie Frey, one of the lead members of the Friends of Playground 89, a group of 12 to 15 parents and community members who got together in June to oppose the current plan — and, to the consternation of advocates, one of the original supporters of safety improvements.
"It goes without saying that every parent wants a safe playground. The problem is that each parent has his or her own idea about what constitutes 'safe,'" said Frey, who had publicly supported the previous plan as recently as a few months ago, speaking out about the inordinate number of injuries — ranging from concussions to broken bones to chipped teeth.
But Frey said she and other parents and local residents parted ways with the plan because they want the redesign to be subject to official public review, and want the new playground designs to undergo a lengthier approval process, including public hearings.
"We all know everything has to be open, transparent. It has to be a community process," Frey said. "It felt like we have to do something or it’s going to be too late. We needed to take a protective step."
In March, the Parks Department committed to fixing the playground after persistent advocacy from parents and a commitment of $300,000 each from City Councilwoman Gale Brewer and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. The department promised the work would be completed over the summer so as not to disrupt students in the fall.
"The CEC passed a resolution back in April encouraging Parks to move as quickly as possible," recalled Community Education Council member Joe Fiordaliso at a recent CEC meeting.
Advocates said they were under the impression that the paperwork was finalized, and the school's website even had a construction start date of July 8 and completion date of Sept. 9 posted, along with a letter to parents and rough blueprint of the project, which includes leveling the playground's uneven surface and changing certain aspects of its design.
But last week, advocates discovered that opponents had requested a temporary restraining order to block the construction. That request was denied because the Parks Department testified that it did not have final plans yet, according to a Parks Department spokeswoman.
However, Friends of Playground 89 was granted the right to get a written notice four weeks before construction begins, the spokeswoman said.
"For any parent association to have to fight this hard [for the renovation] is an absolute shame and it’s an embarrassment," said Michelle Ciulla Lipkin, co-president of the Community School District 3 Presidents' Council, another neighborhood education board, who was at the recent meeting.
Other members were concerned that the threat of litigation meant the redesign would not begin this summer as they'd anticipated.
"The [July 8] start date is going to go by the wayside," said Fiordaliso. "At the end of the day, we’re playing games with our kids' safety."
Parent Association President Christine DiPasquale said the project has been open and involved multiple parties, and added that the last-minute holdup is a threat to everyone who uses the park.
"We have worked for 18 months in unison with members of the CEC, CB7, Parks, the Presidents' Council," said DiPasquale.
"Who will I have to thank if my child gets hurt on that playground next year?"