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Street Play Space Fight Pits Neighbors Against School Children

By Emily Frost | June 7, 2012 8:05am
Ascension School is looking for a new option for an outdoor play space after construction coupled with a community board decision revoked its 107th Street use.
Ascension School is looking for a new option for an outdoor play space after construction coupled with a community board decision revoked its 107th Street use.
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Emily Frost/ DNAinfo

UPPER WEST SIDE — The Ascension School has had the OK from police and the local community board to block off West 107th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam as a midday play space for its students since 2009.

But a small group of neighbors has put up a vocal fight against the daily 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. recesses, and now that construction will soon be coming to the block, the future of the street play is being called into question.

It will be closed for the summer — and perhaps longer.

At a contentious community board meeting Tuesday night, parents such as Mike Marino, who brought his daughter, Sienna, still in her white karate uniform, faced off with residents, who were led by Tony Vellela, a writer who works from home on the block.

"The noise from the children is unbearable. There can be as many as 100 children at a time," Vellela said.

Vellela insisted that the play street was only opened in 2009 because residents were not informed. Otherwise they would have protested, he claimed.

Marino, meanwhile, coached his daughter from their front row seats: "Tell them you want to be able to play outside."

In the end, Marino decided he’d make the impassioned case himself.

"It’s a minority number of residents who want to move the kids," he insisted, noting the importance of outdoor time for the school's children.

Block president Kathy Lanoix reinforced that message. She said that in one afternoon she received 300 resident signatures in support of the play street.

“Let the children play,” lamented Lanoix, adding, “If you don’t like it, leave the block!”

Vellela countered that many of the petition-signers were parishioners of Ascension.

Compounding the conflict is the start of construction at 241 West 107th St., which will involve massive machinery that board members worry will make playing in the street unsafe and unfeasible.

"The play street will be suspended when the construction project starts in the next couple of weeks,” Community Board Chairman Mark Diller said.

Luckily for students, that start date coincides with the end of the school year.

A possible solution being considered to address both the complaints from neighbors and the construction concerns is moving the play street to 108th Street, directly in front of the school. It is an option that the board has approved. 

Ascension principal Chris McMahon was not available for comment, but Diller, the board chairman, felt confident that the school and the city will approve this alternative or will work with them towards another one.

Lanoix disagreed, saying she remembered a time in the 1960s and 1970s when that street was regularly used for the students’ recess space.

"There were so many accidents," she said. She believes that the parking garage on the street makes it "too dangerous."

The board resolved Tuesday night to close 107th Street as a play street, even after construction is finished. If Ascension School wants to use it in the future, it will have to go through a new public request process with the board and apply for the play street all over again.

Diller insisted the board would tackle the issue over the summer, saying one thing the board has learned from the complaints of 107th Street residents is to move carefully with issues like this one.

"When we adopt a play street we ought to make it a pilot program first to get a handle on unintended consequences," he said.