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Central Park's Belvedere Castle, 2 Playgrounds to Close for Major Upgrades

By Shaye Weaver | April 11, 2017 6:15pm

MANHATTAN — Central Park's Belvedere Castle and a pair of playgrounds will be closed at the end of the summer and early fall for major reconstruction work, officials said.

The Central Park Conservancy is planning to restore the 146-year-old castle and renovate the Bernard Family Playground and the Billy Johnson Playground as part of its "Plan for Play" program, which aims to upgrade all 16 park playgrounds that haven't been rebuilt in the last decade.

In July last year, it kicked off a $300 million fundraiser to refurbish its structures, including the castle and its playgrounds.

The upcoming projects, which are still undergoing public review, were presented at an April 6 Community Board 8 parks committee meeting.

Here's what is currently planned:

Belvedere Castle, West 79th Street Transverse

Credit: Shutterstock/Sangaku

Built in 1842,  Belvedere Castle has undergone lots of change, with its latest renovation taking place in the 1980s. The castle has continued to deteriorate from issues that weren't addressed during that restoration, including poor drainage that results in standing water and iron-oxide staining, as well as deterioration of its wood pavilions, terraces and stairs. The castle is also inaccessible to people with disabilities since the castle is built on a steep slope.

What will be done:

► The parapet's walls and terraces will get new drainage and waterproofing systems.

► The castle's masonry will be cleaned and reset.

► The wood pavilions will be restored and the decorative wood tower at the northwest corner will be recreated. (The restoration in the 1980s left this tower out.)

► Pavement will be replaced on the castle's esplanade, and its upper terrace and stairs will be restored. The hexagonal asphalt pavers installed in the 1980s will be replaced with square bluestone pavers in contrasting colors in a checkered pattern, harkening back to how it looked in 1871.

► Windows, the main entrance door, and the upper terrace doors will be replaced with clear-pane glass to mimic the castle's original appearance as an open-air pavilion.

► Its interior will also be replaced with a bluestone ceiling and floor panels, and its mechanical systems and utilities will also be modernized.

► Finally, to make the castle more accessible, the Conservancy will regrade and realign the existing park paths between the East Drive and the castle.

The upgrades will begin in early fall and be completed in phases. Access to the castle will be determined after the review process, according to the Conservancy.

Bernard Family Playground, East 108th Street

Credit: Central Park Conservancy

The Bernard Family Playground was one of the original Robert Moses playgrounds built around the perimeter of the park in the 1930s. It was reconstructed by the Conservancy in 1991, but its spray bollard wastes water and its equipment isn't up to current safety standards, the Conservancy said. 

What will be done:

► The swings will be replaced and the equipment will be rotated to sit parallel to the playground's perimeter to provide more room for swinging.

► The existing climber will be replaced with a newer version and the sandbox will get a accessible sand stable and water source.

► The existing spray bollard will be replaced with an interactive spray feature that conserves water.

► The playground will also be repaved, and its fence, benches, and plantings will be replaced.

Renovations will start late this summer.

Billy Johnson Playground, East 67th Street

Credit: DNAinfo/Alan Neuhauser

The Billy Johnson Playground is one of the newer Central Park playgrounds, built in the early 1980s and designed by landscape architect M. Paul Friedberg. It features miniature stone bridge, a granite slide and trails. A water feature had been planned to flow under the stone bridge but was never realized, so the Conservancy installed a spray bollard. The playground predates accessibility and safety regulations that came after its construction.

What will be done: 

► The water bollard will be replaced with a flow of water to the stone bridge featuring spray jets around the bridge and amphitheater stage.

► A net for climbing will be added in the sand area, and a second granite embankment slide will be added to provide access for younger kids. The bucket swings will be replaced and a new tire swing will be added.

► Rustic arbors, pergola and benches will be added, and deteriorated timber edges of paths will be replaced.

► The entire playground will be repaved as well.

The site will be closed in the late summer for the work to begin.

Since 1980, the Central Park Conservancy has managed and maintained the park under a contract with New York City and raises 75 percent of the funds needed to run the park, according to Conservancy officials. It has invested nearly $1 billion to date.