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Playground Remains Closed for Second Straight Year, Drawing Residents' Ire

By Nigel Chiwaya | June 10, 2013 9:10am
 The Orville and Wilbur Playground has been closed almost two years.
Delayed Renovations Leave Lower WaHi Playground Closed
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WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Damon Sebastian can't wait to organize a basketball tournament for children at the Orville and Wilbur Wright playground in southern Washington Heights.

But the community organizer has one problem — the basketball court at the park has no hoops, no court lines, and is fenced off from community use.

"I've got sponsors ready and waiting to start something for these kids and they can't," Sebastian said.

The basketball courts at the Wright Brothers playground aren't expected to be ready until August — leaving the community without the highly trafficked courts for two years.

"The entire community used that court," Sebastian said. "Men, women, Dominican, blacks, boys, girls. Everybody."

The saga of the playground's renovation is a long one. Community Board 12 approved designs for the half-acre playground, which sits behind P.S. 28 Wright Brothers on St. Nicholas Avenue between West 155th and 156th Streets, back in 2010.

Construction began in July 2012 and the playground was scheduled to be completed by this month, but delays occurred when residents discovered that the playground's basketball courts were being shortened and a hopscotch area was being added too close to the court.

Residents argued that the designs weren't in keeping with what the community was promised and would lead to congestion. Several residents threatened to protest in October 2012, forcing the Parks Department to go back to the drawing board and tweak the $2.3 million renovation to redesign the courts and add a third one.

The redesign process resulted in a delay of about six months, Parks Department Representative Terese Flores said at a recent Community Board 12 Parks and Cultural Affairs committee meeting. However, Flores added that the department was prioritizing the basketball courts.

"We anticipate that that basketball redesign will get done in August," Flores said.

She added that the rest of the playground, which will have new chess tables, play equipment and ADA-compliant bathrooms, will be completed by around November.

"We phased it to get the basketball court done first and everything else will get done behind it," Flores said.

In the meantime, Flores said the Parks Department could place signage directing residents to nearby parks. However, board members noted that the delays would lead to overcrowding issues at other locations.

"That's a burden on the other area," said Community Board 12 member Lorenzo McGougan. "That's twice the amount of kids going down there."