Parks Dept. Delays Redesign of UWS Playground
UPPER WEST SIDE — After a heated and drawn-out debate over the fate of a public playground that parents and residents believed was finally settled last month, the Parks Department said it withdrew the designs from the final review process by the city.
At a July 1 Community Board 7 meeting, the board approved the Parks Department's plans for a $950,000 redesign of Playground 89, which serves students from adjacent P.S. 166, promising it would submit the plan to the Public Design Commission in time for an August hearing.
The commission is the final stop in the approvals process before construction on the playground can begin, Steve Simon, Manhattan chief of staff for the Parks Department, told meeting attendees.
Parents and residents who've been pushing for the changes for more than a year were eager to get repairs to what they consider unsafe conditions, after they complained of kids suffering concussions, broken bones and chipped teeth due to its uneven surface.
The issue got held up for more than a year by rival groups pushing for and against the redesign, culminating with a Parks Department employee lashing out at those who opposed the latest plan because it removed a single step from the playground's original amphitheater.
But after the Parks Department testified last month it had reached a final compromise, the agency withdrew its application from the Design Commission's Aug. 4 hearing agenda, said Keri Butler, the commission's director of art and conservation. She did not know when it would get reviewed in the future.
"Additional material was added to the project’s package," said Parks spokesman Philip Abramson, without responding to repeated requests for information about what the material entailed. He also said Community Board 7 would not have a chance to review and vote on the new material.
In the past, the Parks Department has said its priority is to get input on the evolving designs from a wide array of stakeholders and staffers who have attended hours of community meetings on Playground 89.
Attempts to get approval from the Design Commission have halted progress of the redesign in the past.
Last August, for reasons then current Board 7 chairman Mark Diller called "opaque," the Commission removed the Parks Department's design from its agenda — a move frustrating parents who hoped the "dangerous" conditions would get resolved as soon as possible.
Community members learned in October the Parks Department was being sent back to the drawing board by the Commission, despite their design having won Board 7's approval in July 2013.
The department spent the last school year working towards and conferring with the original architect on a new design.
The group that has long opposed the redesign, Friends of Playground 89, did not immediately return a request for comment.