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Overhaul of 'Dangerous' UWS Playground Delayed Again

By Emily Frost | August 14, 2013 6:50am
 The Public Design Commission has delayed viewing the playground plans, which sets the project back again. 
Renovations to P.S. 166 Playground Delayed
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UPPER WEST SIDE — A "dangerous" playground near an Upper West Side school set to be renovated will remain open this school year despite conditions the city admits are unsafe — with the planned overhaul facing even more delays.

The start of construction on the playground at P.S. 166 on West 89th Street, which has been at the center of a bitter parental tug-of-war, stalled after the city's Public Design Commission removed the project from its August agenda — a decision that left parents and local leaders confused and upset about the holdup.

Though Parks Department officials admitted the public playground was "unsafe" and told parents it would be blocked off if the renovations weren't approved, the space remained open this summer and will stay that way until construction begins, a department spokesman said.

This latest hitch means more time that neighborhood kids and schoolchildren will continue to be exposed to safety hazards during recess and after school, said parents, who have long complained that the playground's uneven cobblestone surface leads to tumbles.

"This is another unfortunate delay that will continue to negatively affect the children and school," said former P.S. 166 Parents Association President Christine DiPasquale, who has been advocating for changes to the playground that she and others have described as "dangerous."

The Parks Department announced plans earlier this year to renovate the playground after receiving complaints of numerous broken bones, chipped teeth and concussions caused by the space's uneven cobblestone surface.

The Parks Department said the work would take less than a year but did not give a detailed timeline, leaving open the possibility that the playground could be closed for construction for a good chunk of the school year.

When exactly the playground will be closed off and construction will begin remains unknown to the school community and to the Parks Department. 

"Until the project receives approval from the PDC, I don’t have a construction timetable available," said Parks spokesman Philip Abramson.

The Public Design Commission did not respond to request for comment on why the redesign plans were removed from its agenda.

While some parents have been pressing for the work to start as soon as possible, others with Friends of Playground 89, which is made up of other P.S. 166 parents and nearby residents, oppose any changes that would flatten the playground's amphitheater, which was built in the 1960s. 

Parents fought the plan because they wanted the redesign to be subject to official public review, and wanted the new playground designs to undergo a lengthier approval process, including public hearings.

Community Board 7 approved the Parks Department's planned renovations after hearing from both sides at a contentious meeting in July.

It was not immediately clear whether the project would appear on the Public Design Commission's September agenda. The commission must approve the designs before construction can begin.

"We are hopeful that it will be discussed at the September meeting of the Public Design Commission," Abramson said.

A member of Friends of Playground 89 declined to comment.

Community Board 7 chairman Mark Diller characterized the reasons for the agenda change as "opaque," but others suspected the swirling controversy around the redesign may be the cause.

P.S. 166 parent and local Community Education Council member Barbara Denham said while "the requirements that any designer needs to submit [before the PDC] are pretty extensive... I think most of the answer [that] lies underneath all that...is politics."