Redesign of 'Dangerous' Playground Still Stalled as Winter Approaches

By Emily Frost on December 6, 2013 10:05am 

Slideshow
 Winter weather makes the playground more dangerous, but the Parks Department continues to delay in its redesign. 
P.S. 166 Playground Delays Persist as Winter Edges Closer
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UPPER WEST SIDE — Parents and community members are still waiting for construction to start on the redesign of a "dangerous" school playground that has caused concussions and broken bones — with winter weather threatening to exacerbate the unsafe conditions five months after the plans were approved, locals said. 

"Ice covers the bricks and the bricks are at a slope and our children were falling and getting hurt," parent Christine DiPasquale previously testified at a community meeting on the West 89th Street playground, which serves students from P.S. 166.

DiPasquale, the former PTA president, and other parents urged the Parks Department to move quickly after the new design was approved by the community in July. They testified repeatedly that the sloped surface, made up of Belgian blocks, created a falling hazard and was made worse when the blocks became dislodged or slippery. 

She added that during one particularly snowy winter, the playground had to be closed for eight weeks because the slope made it impossible to clear, forcing kids to play inside. 

The Parks Department assured the school and the community, which uses the playground after school hours, that the work would take less than a year and would get underway as soon as it was reviewed by the Public Design Commission in August. 

But the plans were not reviewed by the commission this summer or fall — a move some felt was motivated by a tug-of-war among parents over the design. The Parks Department instead conferred with the playground's original architect, M. Paul Friedberg, to revise the design, a spokeswoman from City Councilwoman Gale Brewer's office said.

Neither the Parks Department nor Friedberg responded to requests for comment regarding progress in the design process. 

The plans are not on the Public Design Commission's agenda for December, and the Parks Department must obtain approval from the commission before it moves forward with construction.

The commission did not respond to a request for comment. 

"Every day kids are playing in an unsafe environment, and that is not acceptable," said Marisa Maack, chairwoman of Community Board 7's Youth, Education and Libraries committee, which has been working on the issue. "We would like the Parks Department to please explain to the school and the community what the holdup is at this point." 

Community members, who fought passionately over the department's original design, have said they hope the process moves quickly, but also that they want the opportunity to review any major updates to the redesign.

"I think it's safe to say that everyone involved in this issue is anxiously waiting to see whatever new design is going to be presented," DiPasquale said.

Maack said she was very concerned by the delay, not only because of the safety hazards it creates as the playground remains open, but also because "the window in which work could begin over the summer is beginning to close, and that will negatively impact the school and its students."

The Parks Department had earlier promised members of the P.S. 166 community that work would be completed in the summer of 2013.

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