MORRISANIA — A group of kids who tried to brighten up a graffiti-plagued park with a colorful coat of paint quickly had their efforts covered over by the Parks Department — which daubed the newly colored walls with a drab gray.
For eight hours on Aug. 15, the group painted over the park's gray walls with a dark salmon color while also enjoying hot dogs, hamburgers and soda.
The purpose was to lend some vibrancy to a park that Bervin Harris, co-executive director of the center, said is mainly just used for walking dogs and dealing drugs.
Before the youth center's efforts, which cost nearly $2,000, painting at Unity Park was largely limited to covering up graffiti with brown or white paint on the bare concrete.
"They were so excited," said Cynthia Bailey, who helped with the cleanup efforts along with her 4-, 7- and 10-year-old granddaughters. "They got up early — extra early that morning — put their paint clothes on just to go paint."
However, the Parks Department was less enthusiastic about the group's efforts and on Sept. 20 painted over the youth center's work in gray.
"It just ruined everything," said Al-lisha Burns, 17, who helped with the cleanup. "I just felt so bad because it's like, why work hard and put in time to help out the community if they're just going to redo all the work you did?"
Bailey's grandchildren were very upset as well, she said.
"They saw it and they started crying," she said. "And they wanted to know who did this."
The department painted over the youth center's work because salmon is not an acceptable color for the park's walls, which have to be gray for purposes of uniformity, according to Eduardo Hernandez, administrative parks and recreation manager for the district that includes Unity Park.
The youth center did have a permit to paint from the Parks Department, but to paint the walls a color other than gray requires permission from the Bronx borough commissioner, Hernandez said.
Hernandez acknowledged that he did not tell the youth center they had to paint the park a certain color before their project.
"When I tried to get in contact with them, I didn’t have their information," he said. "I wasn’t even involved with that permit, but had I been, I would have told them that you can’t paint it any color that you want.
"It has to be painted the same colors that we normally use."
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The Parks Department also painted over the youth center's work because it had received some "particularly harsh complaints about the color" from the community, according to Hernandez.
The agency said it did not have the manpower to paint Unity Park before Renaissance's efforts and did so afterward to deal with the community complaints, according to Hernandez.
Among those dissatisfied with the salmon color was Bert Irons, son of the park's namesake and chairman of the board of trustees at the Evangelical Church of God, which sits across the street from the park.
He helped his mother put the park together and said that he and Harris were supposed to discuss the details of the project before it got underway, but this meeting did not happen.
Irons described the salmon color as not appropriate for the park and likened it to repainting the Statue of Liberty or Washington Monument.
"Make the White House blue. Let's do that. No," he said. "So this is sort of a mini version of that situation, that somebody just decides they'd paint it the way they want to paint it."
The youth center's parent volunteer group, Renaissance EMS Parent Alliance, had received a $1,000 grant to clean the park from the Citizens Committee for New York City, a group that aims to help residents in low-income areas improve their neighborhoods.
Harris estimated that Renaissance spent about $700 of their own funds on the project as well.
Citizens Committee CEO Peter Kostmayer expressed hope that the neighborhood and Parks Department would be able to remedy the situation with Unity Park.
"Hopefully, members of the community can get together and resolve this unfortunate misunderstanding," he said.
Before the youth center's efforts, the park's walls were never fully painted except to cover up graffiti, according to Harris.
"What bothers me the most is that the park was never painted — ever," he said.
Hernandez would like to see if the youth center wants to do some planting projects and, despite her frustration with Unity Park, Burns said she would not let a setback like this prevent her from working to serve the neighborhood.
"That’s not going to stop me from trying to help improve the community and make a change and make things better," she said.