“We want a field!” chanted dozens of young athletes as they stood with their parents, coaches and elected officials in front of the still unfinished College Point Sports Complex on Saturday.
Behind them, nearly as many construction workers drove backhoes and raked dirt in an effort to get the fields at 26th Avenue and 130th-Ulmer Streets ready for the start of Little League season on April 19th.
But the show of work was not enough for local residents, who have been waiting to play on their own turf since 1997, when the city shut down the fields for safety reasons due to illegal dumping of unsafe landfill.
Enviro-Fill, the company responsible for the dumping, was hired by the College Point Sports Association, which ran the complex. When, following a lengthy delay, the city was forced to remove the 36,700 cubic yards of the illegal fill at a cost of $10 million, it took back the fields from the sports association. The city is now suing both the owners of Enviro-Fill and the sports association for $16.5 million.
Councilman Tony Avella, who organized the rally and served as president of the sports association during the landfill scandal, said it was time to stop the blame game.
“Anybody who blames this on the College Point Sports Association, shame on them,” he said.
“This is outrageous. The people of College Point have been very patient,” said Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn, vowing to call on all city agencies and the mayor to expedite the construction process so that the children could play on the fields this season.
But Department of Design and Construction spokesman Matthew Monahan interrupted the rally to ensure residents that such lobbying would not be necessary.
“It’s like the ninth inning for us,” he said. “We’re nearly done here. The grass seed has to take, so we just need a little sunlight, and then we’re good to go.”
He said the baseball fields would be open this spring, though he could not give an exact date, and the roller hockey rink would be completed in several months.
Contractors Volmer Construction recently took over the renovation work from ADC Contracting, which was removed by the city for shoddy workmanship.
“They’ve really hit a home run for us,” Monahan said, pointing to the nearly completed comfort station and two baseball fields. But parents who have heard such promises before remained skeptical.
“We thought it was going to be open last year, and we thought it was going to be open the year before that,” said Diane Rose, whose eight-year-old daughter, Julia, plays on the College Point Little League team.
In the meantime, the teams have been playing at Flushing Memorial, Frank Golden and MacNeil Parks. Rose remembered when one of her daughter’s games was stopped in the middle when another team showed up with a permit for the field. “The kids were very upset and there was nothing we could do,” she said.
Danielle Loughlin, whose son, Marc, 11, plays on a Little League team coached by his father, said the nomadism of College Point’s sports teams has taken its toll on the program, which has approximately 300 players and 25 teams.
Adrian Castano complained that the fields his eight-year-old son, Adrian, plays on while waiting for the College Point fields to be finished are filled with rocks and glass.
Mark Flynn, whose son, Mark, 7, plays T-ball with the program, said many of these fields don’t have sufficient bleachers for the spectators, and was looking forward to the opening of the College Point fields, which had new bleachers put in as part of the restoration work.
“If you don’t have areas for the adults to sit down, it kind of takes away from the sport,” he said. “You know how Clinton used to say, ‘It takes a village to raise a child?’ The more we know each other’s kids, the more it makes for a better style of living.”
He said he expected to see his son playing on the home fields this spring, adding “I think blame is a luxury that I can’t afford.”