LOWER MANHATTAN — An oft-overlooked park near Downtown's court buildings is finally getting a facelift.
Collect Pond Park, between Lafayette and Centre streets just north of Leonard Street, currently features just a smattering of benches around crumbling pavement, flanked by rows of parked cars.
But the city is about to embark on a major $4.6 million overhaul that aims to turn the space into an oasis including a shallow pond ringed by trees.
"This has been a long time coming," said Lawrence Mauro, project manager for the Parks Department.
"It's probably in the worst condition [of any] park in Manhattan."
The biggest engineering challenge is to stabilize the park's surface, which has been sinking for years because of improper underground supports, causing portions of the park to be closed off for safety reasons.
The city also plans to boot a parking lot that takes up the southern third of the park, to maximize the amount of green space.
The new park will feature a central pond with a bridge crossing over it, wave-patterned pavers, new trees and plants and an interactive spray feature for children.
"We hope to lower the overall temperature in the park," Mauro said, noting that the current barren plaza often bakes uncomfortably in the sun.
Several park-goers on a recent sweltering afternoon were pleased to hear of the changes.
"That would be really good," said Miledys Hernandez, 59, an Upper West Side resident who was waiting for her son to be released from the courts.
"Right now it's a mess. It would be nice to have somewhere to cool down."
Others, though, said they like the park the way it is now.
"It's not necessary," Joe Ray, 55, who lives nearby, said of the planned changes. "The city is broke — there's no money for the people, no money for affordable housing."
The cost of the park will mostly be covered by a Lower Manhattan Development Corp. grant, according to the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center.
The project has gone through several design changes over the past few years — originally the Parks Department planned a lawn in the center of the park but changed it to a pond to recall the park's namesake.
The original Collect Pond was a 60-foot-deep pool fed by an underground spring, which provided drinking water to New Yorkers in the 17th and 18th centuries.
But by the early 19th century, it had become a communal dumping ground and the city decided to fill it in with dirt. The space then languished as part of the squalid Five Points neighborhood and became a park when the city knocked down the tenements and replaced them with government offices and court buildings.
Construction on the new Collect Pond Park is set to begin later this summer, and the park is scheduled to reopen in the summer of 2012.