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Redesign Slated for Shuttered St. Mary's Playground

By Nikhita Venugopal | February 16, 2015 8:48am
 The Carroll Gardens playground is slated for a complete redesign.
St. Mary's Playground
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CARROLL GARDENS — St. Mary’s Playground may be revived through a community-backed reconstruction project, locals and officials said.

The former park — located on Smith Street between Nelson and Luquer streets but split into two lots by Huntington Street — was closed on June 17, 2009 and demolished because of the MTA’s rehabilitation of the Culver Viaduct, including the Smith-Ninth Street subway station, officials from the city’s Parks Department said.

The station reopened in 2013 and now the community is hoping the city will restore its playground as a green space for local kids, which residents say is desperately needed in the neighborhood.

The reconstruction project has been allocated $850,000 from the MTA and $500,000 from City Councilman Brad Lander, Community Board 6 said Wednesday night at its general board meeting.

Even before the park closed almost six years ago, St. Mary’s Playground was “dirty, unkempt and underutilized,” especially when compared to nearby Carroll Park, said Paige Bellenbaum, who has lived in the area for nine years.

But droves of young families and children moving into the area in the last decade has left the beloved Carroll Park “oversaturated,” Bellenbaum said.

“[Carroll Park] cannot hold all of the young kids that live in the community,” she said.

Last month Bellenbaum, who is also a district leader in the 52nd Assembly District, was invited to a Feb. 9 meeting with Lander and park officials to discuss the playground’s future. Prior to the meeting, she started an online survey to give the community a voice in the park’s design.

She received 401 responses in a little less than two weeks — an outpouring of interest that “spoke to how desperate and invested people are into creating an open space and a park space,” she said. 

Most people who responded had at least one or two young children and lived in the zip code 11231, which includes Carroll Gardens, Red Hook and parts of Gowanus.  

According to the survey’s results, shared with park officials at the Feb. 9 meeting, many respondents listed “safety” and “cleanliness” as critical needs for the playground.

Other must-haves included plants and trees, age-appropriate play equipment for kids, tables and chairs and an AstroTurf field, between the two spaces on Smith Street. 

While some respondents asked whether a dog run could be incorporated in the design, park officials said the newly renovated dog run at DiMattina Playground was too close by for another dog-friendly space to be built.

More than 70 percent of respondents said they had not frequented St. Mary's before it closed but those who did said they enjoyed its proximity to home and small crowds. However, like Bellenbaum, respondents said they also found it to be dirty.

“Though the project is still in the design stage, the anticipated scope includes reconstruction of the existing playground, sport courts and a multi-purpose play area with skate park elements,” Parks Department spokeswoman Maeri Ferguson said in a statement.

Park officials told Bellenbaum that they hoped to have a final design in place by June with plans submitted to CB6’s parks committee in April.