Two Central Park Playgrounds to Get Safety, Accessibility Overhauls

By Lindsay Armstrong on May 27, 2014 2:58pm 

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 The East 72nd and West 67th Street playgrounds are both examples of adventure playgrounds.
Central Park Playgrounds
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UPPER EAST SIDE — A pair of Central Park playgrounds may soon be getting new looks as part of an effort to make the spaces safer and more accessible to children in wheelchairs.

The Central Park Conservancy proposed several changes to both the East 72nd and West 67th Street playgrounds in a recent presentation to Community Board 8. The Conservancy said that neither space has been updated in more than a decade and that they are both in need of renovations, including wheelchair ramps, swings and new carpeting.

The East 72nd and West 67th Street playgrounds are known as adventure playgrounds, or spaces that were designed to encourage creative play, and were built in the 1960s. Rather than standard playground equipment, they feature walls that pull double duty as benches or a maze, wooden tree houses that encourage climbing, and pyramid structures with slides and tunnels for hiding. 

Plans to radically redesign these playgrounds in the late 1990s to better align with modern safety standards met with resistance from some parents and preservation groups who saw value in the original designs. While those proposals involved razing the original designs and replacing them with modern equipment, the new plans only involve modifying the spaces.

At the East 72nd Street playground, the $1.5 million plan involves removing the exterior fence and replacing it with a low wall and a mesh fence to help the space better blend into the surrounding park. Officials also plan to remove the playground’s tree house and replace it with swings meant for older children that the space currently lacks.

Other changes, such as creating wheelchair access to the water play area and replacing the sand with safety-surface carpeting, are intended to make the playground more welcoming to children with disabilities.

The West 67th Street playground will also become more accessible, with a new wheelchair ramp from the park into the playground and one at the entrance to the water amphitheater. The sand will also be removed in favor of safety carpeting, but the Conservancy plans to install a sand table in the space. The renovation will cost $1 million.

Kristie Koos, 23, who works as a nanny in the area and brings her three charges to the East 72nd Street playground almost every day, said she was happy to hear the plans wouldn’t drastically alter the playground.

“They like to climb and there are a lot of high elements here that they can use however they want,” she said. “Right now, they’re playing Titanic because they just learned about it in school and they’re obsessed.”

While she said that the kids would probably miss playing in the sand, she acknowledged that playground carpet would be safer and easier for parents.

Community Board 8 approved the Central Park Conservancy’s plans. If the Conservancy receives approval from the Landmarks Preservation and Public Design Commissions, work on both projects will begin in the fall and take about nine months to complete, according to the Conservancy.

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