The Island’s playgrounds are scheduled to receive some much needed attention.
According to Mary Cunneen, director of parks and recreation for the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC), three play spaces on the Island are slated to receive new flooring in the coming months, and all of our public playgrounds are being evaluated for necessary repairs and maintenance.
Cunneen says it’s just the first step in a larger initiative to update – and possibly expand – the Island’s recreational areas.
“We need work done,” says RIOC Board member Fay Christian. “The playgrounds have been very neglected. We need to create new ones as well as updating the ones we have.” RIOC recently put together an informal playground committee to assess the state of play spaces on the Island and suggest future improvements.
Priorities for the first phase of improvements, says Cunneen, are based on past studies – most recently in 2016 by a certified playground specialist, who assessed the current equipment and gave the corporation notes regarding how to improve them from a safety standpoint.
Known by many locals as the “woodchip playground,” the lower Blackwell Park playground is now mostly dirt and grass.
“Essentially, we’re making sure all the playgrounds are maintained properly and are up to safety standards,” she says. “That starts with the flooring.”
Three play spaces will receive new “poured-in-place” rubber flooring: the Al Lewis playground, located directly across the street from PS/IS 217; the lower Blackwell Park playground, known by many as “the woodchip playground;” and the concrete sprinkler area beside the upper (newer) Blackwell playground.
“I have long said that we need a safe material down in the sprinkler area,” says Christian. “It’s all cement, and there are cracks in the cement that create a wet area that can then be a breeding ground for mosquitos.”
The concrete ground at the sprinklers will be replaced with rubber flooring.
Dates have not yet been set for the work, but Cunneen says she hopes to have all three playgrounds completed by the coming winter. The playgrounds will have to be closed while the work is being done, but Cunneen says they will phase the projects so only one playground is closed at a time.
Once the first phase of repairs is complete, Cunneen says RIOC plans to bring in a playground architect to evaluate the entire Island and see what options would work best for the spaces we have. While there is no word on what that might include, many parents and grandparents on the Island certainly have their own wish lists.
Asked what she would like to see added to the Island, Christian immediately answers, “Swings! The kids love the swings but right now they have to wait in long lines. To me that’s the number one priority.” Currently, the Island contains exactly two harness-type swings for babies and toddlers, and there are no swings at all north of the lower Blackwell Park.
She would also like to see a space designed specifically for older kids and preteens. “It’s not perfect, but we do have something for the younger kids on the Island. The preteens need an area.” She envisions renovating the lower Blackwell Park playground with something that would be more appealing to preteens. “We used to have something there called ‘the castle.’ It was amazing.” She describes it as an actual castle, made of wood and cement, with different platforms that kids could climb through. “There also used to be sprinklers there. If we renovated that, the older kids could play with sprinklers without having to mix with the younger kids at the other sprinklers.”
As part of the Roosevelt Island Residents Association’s Island Services committee, Susy del Campo Perea has been tracking the playground situation for more than three years.
At the top of her list of priorities: bathrooms. “We need toilets near the playground. If you are at Blackwell Park or Al Lewis, there are no nearby public bathrooms. There’s one at the Tram and one at the Octagon Soccer Field. And in between, nothing. Small kids can’t hold it that long.”
She’d also like to see a playground designed solely for toddlers and children under the age of four, similar to the “Tot Lot” playground that was removed to make way for the construction of Riverwalk Point at 480 Main Street. “You need a structure where every parent can reach their kid without having to climb up, where kids can’t fall from six feet up – just engaging stuff where they can crawl or walk without getting run over. We used to have that.”
Flooring at the Al Lewis playground is completely worn out in several places.
Del Campo Perea says she hopes RIOC will reach out to Island parents and caregivers to see what their priorities are. “We need the input of everyone. Especially the parents with kids – rather than just people who don’t have young children anymore. The Island has grown. There’s a new building, and Island house has gone private, and a lot of families are moving in. You have a different demographic. The needs may not be the same. We should be planning for the future.”
According to Christian and Cunneen, there are no plans yet for surveying Island residents. Cunneen described such plans as “premature,” and says RIOC would like to wait to hear from the playground architect first.
Still, Christian says that Islanders are always welcome to express their concerns directly to RIOC. “The opportunity is there every day. They just have to go to the RIOC office and do this. If you have a concern, that’s where you can go. You really don’t have to wait for a forum to give your ideas. You can also make an appointment, which a lot of people don’t seem to realize. You are free to call and make an appointment with [RIOC President] Susan [Rosenthal] or anyone else you need to speak with.” RIOC’s offices are located at 591 Main Street.