MANHATTAN VALLEY — An aging set of basketball and handball courts is getting an $800,000 Parks Department upgrade that the city said will help with issues of homelessness in the play space, officials said.
A wall dividing the handball courts next to Booker T. Washington Middle School blocks the southern court area from view along West 108th Street, allowing homeless people to sneak in before the park is locked for the evening, residents said.
The space, which is used by both the school and the public, has also been the site of drug deals and public urination by players behind the handball court because there are so few bathrooms in the area, said Peter Arndtsen, district manager of the Columbus Amsterdam BID.
The renovation, funded by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, will flip the courts to an east-west orientation from their current north-south setup along West 108th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues, said Parks Department landscape architect Leslie Peoples.
"We’ve wanted to move that handball court because of problems that have occurred there in the past," said Steve Simon, Manhattan chief of staff for the department, at a meeting Monday, adding that the renovation has "been on our list for years."
Arndtsen also said the drug dealing issue at the courts has "been a problem for years."
Simon acknowledged that it's possible Parks staff members who closed the courts at 9 or 10 p.m. would not see homeless people sleeping behind the handball court wall.
The condition of the courts has also gone neglected, residents said.
"It looks very forlorn and forgotten about," said Community Board 7 member Meisha Hunter at a meeting Tuesday night to review the design.
The court has been run down since at least 1998, when Stephon Poaches graduated from Booker T. Washington, he said at the meeting. Poaches now helps run a youth basketball camp there in the summer, he said.
"I'm happy to see this," he noted of the upgrade plans.
The makeover will include a new NBA regulation-length basketball court and nets, new handball courts, new benches, four new trees, and a set of adult workout equipment along the perimeter, Peoples explained. The equipment also features an ADA accessible pull-up bar.
The new basketball court will boast orange and blue colors, those of the New York Knicks at the request of a local resident, Simon confirmed.
But the changes won't come until at least the spring or summer of 2015, and construction will shut down the courts for six to eight months, he explained.
After receiving approval from Community Board 7's Parks and Environment committee Monday night, the designs still need the full board's approval and that of the Public Design Commission before construction can begin, Simon added.