After nearly seven years without the use of local sports fields, youngsters from College Point will finally get the chance soon to play locally with the reopening of the sports complex in November.
The $5-million project has taken longer than anyone expected. Officials from the Department of Design and Construction, which is overseeing the project, say the latest delays were due to bad weather during the spring and summer. It was supposed to have been completed months sooner with an opening projected for last summer.
John Spavins, spokesman for the DDC, blamed wet weather in recent months for delays in the mostly outdoor work. The project is now set to be completed on October 31st.
Councilman Tony Avella, who has been an involved party during the entire process, said on Friday he toured the facility the day before with DDC officials and expected an opening ceremony to be held in mid-November.
“This has been a long time coming. It should never have taken so long. No action was taken for a long time (in the early years),” he added.
Ready for opening will be one baseball field, one Little League field, a roller hockey rink, a park house and bleachers. Avella has been working with DDC to add finishing touches such as lights and a scoreboard for the hockey rink.
“This will be a premiere facility,” he said. “It has drainage and an irrigation system that no other city park has.”
Located on 22 acres on 130th and Ulmer Streets, between 23rd and 26th Avenues, the fields were padlocked by the city in 1997 because of illegal fill that had been dumped there by Enviro-Fill.
For 25 years, the site was leased by the city for $1 to the College Point Sports Association, a group that ran programs for 1,400 youngsters a year. Avella served as its president and many in the area blame him for the mess that took so long to rectify.
Enviro-Fill was hired by the sports association to fix up the fields and was allowed to use dirt and crushed concrete in the project but the city said in actuality, every type of building material was used, making it unsafe for play by youngsters.
The city eventually took back the property and it will now be under the auspices of the Parks Department. It was forced to remove 36,700 cubic yards of illegal fill or 210,779 tons, which cost the city $10 million.
Concerned residents of College Point, including Sabina Cardali, president of the College Point Civic and Taxpayers Association, is furious the project took so long to complete and that it was allowed to happen in the first place.
“It was a total disaster,” she said. “I’m glad it’s finally opening after almost seven years but Avella is partly at fault.”
In his defense, Avella has denied that the illegal dumping was knowingly allowed to continue for two years and that “sometimes bad things happen to good people,” alluding to the sports association board. He also blamed one of the board members, who thought that using Enviro-Fill would be best but now believes that the decision backfired.
Another College Point leader, who asked not to be identified, said that Avella was either stupid or extremely naive for allowing Enviro-Fill to dump illegal fill “for years right under their noses.”
Additional funds have been allocated for a second phase of the restoration project but the councilman said no decisions have been made on proceeding. It is expected to include a soccer field and another Little League field but could also involve a football field and track.
“I would like the Parks Department to move ahead with the next phase,” he said. “Congressman (Joseph) Crowley has allocated some funds for it and the money is there.”
In April, the man responsible for dumping the illegal fill pleaded guilty and agreed to pay the city $250,000 in restitution. Benjamin Rastelli Jr., of Whitestone, admitted in court that he allowed over 70 cubic yards of solid waste onto the sports fields between 1996 and 1997. In addition, he admitted falsifying a corporation invoice indicating the firm was accepting only clean fill.
Rastelli was also sentenced to serve three months in jail on weekends and five years’ probation. The firm went out of business as soon as the fields were closed.
Originally, Enviro-Fill had agreed to upgrade the sports fields by using clean fill at no charge to the city or sports association with revenues from area contractors who would pay for dumping clean fill there.
City Commissioner of Investigation Rose Hearn noted that Rastelli polluted land for personal profit and left the city holding the bag for over $10 million in cleanup costs.
The sports complex will now be run as a public park with groups wishing to play there on a regular basis having to make arrangements with the Parks Department.
One such group is the College Point Roller Hockey League, which has been playing in another area of the complex during renovation work.
Despite the good news that the complex will reopen soon, Cardali is bitter about its effect on the community. “It was a crime. Kids suffered. They could have been out there playing sports but this whole thing took so long, everyone lost,” she lamented.