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Queens Chronicle

Enter sandman: City eyes play box in Juniper Park

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Posted: Thursday, October 30, 2008 12:00 am

The city Department of Parks and Recreation is redesigning a section of a playground in Juniper Valley Park, in Middle Village, to accommodate what it calls an array of imaginative and active play.

But one of those additions may be a sandbox, the kind that, until recently, were fading from the playgrounds of city public spaces.

Some community members are not pleased they are making a comeback.

Sandboxes were once a major staple of city parks, with as many as 800 dotting the landscape in the 1970s. Today, only about 40 remain. They disappeared for the same reason parents now are questioning whether they should make a comeback: they doubt they can be kept clean.

While the department hasn’t made a firm decision yet on whether to include a sandbox, work on the project is set to begin in spring 2009. Former District 30 Councilman Dennis Gallagher earmarked $750,000 for the work prior to resigning earlier this year, and his replacement, Councilman Anthony Como (R-Middle Village), kept the money in the budget when he took over in June.

The project’s designers described the plans to area residents during a Community Board 5 meeting earlier this month. The playground, which is located in the lower east portion of the park near 75th Street, will reflect the history of Juniper Valley Park, which was just Juniper Valley Swamp in the 1900s. The playground will include swamp-like vegetation and feature a frog theme. Other utilities will include a water spray to allow kids to cool down on hot days and bucket swings for the younger children. The playground is designed primarily for those between the ages of 2 and 5.

When it was mentioned a sandbox would be included, ears began to perk up. Some board members questioned whether the department would be able to keep the sandboxes free of bacteria. Patricia Crowley said the parasitic disease toxoplasmosis is a particular concern, because it is spread through the feces of cats, which would be particularly attracted to the sandbox. An infected pregnant woman can transfer toxoplasmosis to her fetus, which can cause birth defects.

A quick polling of parents and grandparents in the park this week found the majority opposed to the idea, primarily because of the hygiene factor.

Dorothy Lewandowski, the parks commissioner for Queens, said the department is looking to increase the number of sandboxes around the city because they are popular and add a creative element of play for children. “Kids like to play with things that move and they can mold. We certainly have expressed interest in adding more sandboxes around the city,” Lewandowski said.

While the department hasn’t come to a final determination on the sandbox issue and is receptive to the community’s concerns, Lewandowski said the location makes sense. The park is well maintained, with the district’s operations located there, and the heavy uniformed presence tends to create a “higher level of behavior” among park users.

Kevin Martin Jr., a Middle Village resident who took his 1-year-old son to the park on Monday, said he is pleased the playground will be getting an upgrade, but doubts the department would be able to keep a sandbox clean considering the usage and wildlife.

“Any new addition is a great thing, but they can come up with a better idea than that,” he said.

Welcome to the discussion.