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Contentious Playground Redesign Must Get Principal's Approval, Says CB7

By Emily Frost | May 23, 2014 1:40pm
 The board said it was disappointed the principal had not been consulted on the designs for the school playground. 
Community Board 7 Delays Vote on Controversial Playground
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UPPER WEST SIDE — A local playground at the center of a bitter dispute among parents and residents will not get a safety and accessibility upgrade until the Parks Department confers with the principal of the school, Community Board 7 has ordered.

The long-awaited redesign of public Playground 89, which is used by elementary school P.S. 166 during school hours, hit another roadblock Thursday night as the board urged the Parks Department to incorporate additional feedback into its latest design. 

The department must meet with P.S. 166 Principal Debra Mastriano and incorporate her point of view and revise its plans before the board will vote on them, members said. 

The upgrade, which was meant to allay safety concerns and improve access for handicapped kids, was approved by the board in July, but the plans were not approved by the Public Design Commission. Instead, the commission sent the Parks Department back to the drawing board and told it to work with the playground's original architect, M. Paul Friedberg, Parks representatives said. 

Together, M. Paul Friedberg and Associates and the Parks Department reworked the design so that it preserved both the playground's multiple levels and its amphitheater.

While the group Friends of Playground 89, which is in favor of preserving as much of the original design as possible, said it generally liked the new plans, many other parents balked at the lack of open space for running. 

"It’s really important that we have an open space. Even though the pit is enlarged, we would like it a little bigger," Mastriano told the Parks Department.

Specifically, Mastriano would like two of the amphitheater steps removed to make more room for play. She'd also like the sprinkler bollards that line the top of the amphitheater moved so that they're not a tripping hazard.

She said she had not been included on design strategy meetings and had only seen the new plans a few days earlier, a fact board members found appalling. 

"The Parks Department did not spend its eight months as well as it might have in terms of talking to parents and the principal," said Parks and Environment Committee co-chair Klair Neuwalt. 

Other members were frustrated that the principal had not been included in the new design process and so the board was not in a position to act on the new design.

"I continue to be frustrated because we’re having the same conversation. It’s kind of like Groundhog Day," said board member DeNora Getachew.

The Parks Department said it would be willing to meet with Mastriano and emphasized that the Public Design Commission prefers to approve designs that have full and united community support. 

"The principal is a person whose opinion we respect highly... We are willing to hear her opinions and views. This plan is not set in stone," said Steve Simon, Manhattan chief of staff for the Parks Department. 

Board members asked that the meeting happen quickly and that new plans come before them by next month. 

The Parks Department said work on the playground would not begin until Fall 2014.

Six-hundred thousand dollars in funding has been set aside for the project by Comptroller Scott Stringer and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal said she might be able to set aside funding for improvements that went over budget.