The College Point Sports Complex is on schedule to open to the public this summer—if it doesn’t suffer yet another setback.
For more than six years, the four-sport complex at 130th and Ulmer Streets has been plagued by problems, first with management, and then with funding. But all those involved with the project are now cautiously optimistic that the complex will be completed on time.
If it is, the 22-acre site will boast Little League fields, a football field, a junior soccer field, a field house, an indoor roller skating rink, an adult baseball field and an adult soccer field, according to Matthew Monahan, deputy commissioner for the city’s Department of Design and Construction, which is overseeing the project.
Monahan said that the project was delayed by the harsh winter because the site is entirely open-air, which prevented workers from shielding construction areas during the snowstorms.
Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who is the former president of the College Point Sports Association, the site’s former leaseholder, said he was happy the complex was near completion after years of disappointments. He was especially pleased because the association used to lease the fields from the city for $1 per year and performed its own maintenance, and he thinks the city owes them a debt of gratitude.
“I’m pleased that work is finally progressing. The complex is crucial for that area. Prior to the city taking control of the facility, the community had to voluntarily maintain it for 30 years. The amount of money the city saved was enormous, and the city owes College Point this park,” he said.
But Sabina Cardali, president of the College Point Taxpayers and Civic Association, is not convinced the complex will be open on time. “Contrary to what anyone else will tell you, it has been six years since these fields were supposed to open and the children have suffered. The adults don’t care. It’s really a disaster,” she said.
Cardali said the College Point Little League has suffered the most, and teams have been forced to play at smaller alternate sites for years while the fields have been repaired. “Maybe for a couple of hours it’s okay, but not for a steady type of event. A lot of people here are very interested in Little League and they are very upset.”
The complex was first closed to Little Leagues in 1997 when it was discovered that a company the association had hired to repair the fields, Enviro-Fill, had dumped 36,700 cubic yards of illegal fill such as metal, glass, sheet rock, wire, plumbing fixtures and other building materials. Huge mounds of trash were on the site, and the city Department of Sanitation and Transportation removed 210,779 tons of debris at a cost of $10 million to the city.
Francesco Casalino and his brothers Joseph and Anthony were eventually arrested and charged with illegal dumping in connection with the crime, and Enviro-Fill immediately went out of business. District Attorney Richard Brown came down hard on the brothers, saying “they knew the site was not licensed to receive those materials but more significantly, at a site on which youngsters and others would likley be injured as a result and that they went to great lengths to conceal their activities by filing false tracking reports with the city Department of Sanitation and environmental authorities.”
Avella later said one board member of the association thought using Enviro-Fill would be best, but that his decision backfired.
During the investigation by the Queens District Attorney’s Office, the fields remained closed while the illegal fill was removed, and plans for a new complex dragged on until Congressman Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) secured a $100,000 grant and State Senator Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) secured a $250,000 state grant to complement the $5 million pledge the city had marked for Phase 1 of the project in 2000.
When the grant was originally announced in 2000, Crowley and Avella vowed the fields would be ready in spring 2001 as part of Phase 1.
Perhaps that’s why Cardali is still pessimistic about a summer opening. “We can’t wait until it’s open again, but I think it will be another two years,” she said. She called on Queens’ elected officials to enforce deadlines on the project, saying “today, if you don’t have visible, wonderful activists for children, they will be delinquents.”
Avella was keeping pressure on the DDC and the Parks Department to get the project done, and has requested weekly updates on the project from the DDC. He has also stressed his belief that College Point Little League teams will be given first priority on the city-owned fields, expecting them to be “grandfathered” in.