With Little League season just around the corner, a rally has been planned outside the unfinished College Point Sports Complex on Saturday, April 3rd at noon.
Although the complex was closed for almost seven years, the Department of Design and Construction, which took over the project after years of delay, promises that the fields will be ready this spring, they just can’t give a date.
But that’s not good enough for Councilman Tony Avella, who has scheduled the rally at the site at 26th Avenue and 130th-Ulmer Streets on Saturday. “When are the recreation fields going to open?” he asked. “Our kids have waited long enough.”
As president of the College Point Sports Association that ran the fields, Avella and his board were responsible for hiring Enviro-Fill in 1995 to regrade the fields using legal landfill. Instead, for two years, the company used illegal fill until the city finally shut down the complex.
State Senator Frank Padavan, a Republican and no great fan of Avella, has said in the past that the councilman should have known better or had better oversight of the fields.
The Mayor’s Office also minced no words in condemning Avella’s rally in light of his involvement with the problems at the sports complex. “Multiple city agencies have done a great job in cleaning up Councilman Avella’s mess. We are sorry he feels the need to manipulate the residents of College Point,” said Chris Coffey, mayoral spokesperson.
The 22-acre facility belongs to the city, which leased it to the sports association until the landfill debacle. After a lengthy delay, the city was forced to remove the 36,700 cubic yards of illegal fill at a cost of $10 million. It then gave the $3.6-million restoration project to the DDC, which in turn will hand it over to Parks upon completion.
“Mother Nature has played hardball with us this winter,” said DDC spokesman Matthew Monahan. “The ballfields are finished but they are not ready to be played on.”
Prior to its opening, the Parks Department must approve the work. DDC’s Monahan gave an estimate of late spring. “We are on target for opening this spring. That has not changed but as to what part of the Little League season it is, we don’t know.”
Coffey estimated the fields will open in two to three weeks, “whether Avella holds a rally or not. We think it’s sad he’s playing politics with kids who just want to play baseball.”
Jerry Castro, president of the College Point Little League, who was a critic of how the fields were being handled by the original contractor last year, said that Little League season gets under way on April 19th. His approximately 300 players and 25 teams will continue to play at area park ballfields until the complex opens. They include Flushing Memorial, Frank Golden and MacNeil Parks.
“Despite not having a home field, we have managed to maintain our program and even expand a little. It’s been a struggle but we’ve gone from 240 to 300 boys and girls and I think we will get more when the complex opens,” he said.
Due to the large number of teams, some games will still have to be scheduled outside College Point even after the complex opens.
Because of shoddy workmanship by the original contractor, ADC Contracting, the firm was called in default by the DDC in December. Work resumed in February by Volmar Construction to complete the job of restoring the ballfields, building bleachers, a comfort station and a roller hockey rink.
On a walking tour Friday of the fields, Castro noted that they felt lumpy and that the sod at some points was coming apart.
“Is there enough topsoil to hold the sod?” Castro asked. “I understand this is a problem. I wouldn’t blame Parks if they don’t accept the job.”
Burt Hickey, a local firefighter who played Little League ball at the complex years ago, also toured the fields and called the sod job “a mosaic. There were four fields here in the old days and they were much better.”
Coffey noted that the city’s intention is to get the fields open and playable. “Likely we will close the fields when the baseball season ends to do a revamping to make them great. We would rather do that than not have the season.”
One unexpected finding at the complex last week was tons of goose droppings, littering the fields. Castro admitted that they have been a problem in the past but not nearly as bad as now. He is investigating ways of treating the grass to keep the geese away.
His organization has also promised the Parks Department to help tend the fields “because they just don’t have the manpower to do it.” That would involve mowing and watering the grass, picking up litter and raking.
As to the upcoming rally, although Castro and his players and families will be taking part, he is urging them to proceed with restraint. “We are participating but not as a partisan political group. We are not supporting Avella politically.”
Recently, the councilman announced his intention of exploring the possibility of running for mayor next year.
Castro’s only interest is seeing that the ballfields reopen. “We don’t want to put blame on anyone. I”m telling my people, ‘no obnoxious signs.’ This is going to be non-confrontational, non-accusatory.”
Other groups expected to participate include the First Sports Club of College Point, College Point Roller Hockey League, College Point Civic and Taxpayers Association, College Point Board of Trade, Poppenhusen Institute and the Joint Community Council of College Point.
Volmar’s work primarily involved finishing uncompleted work or correcting mistakes by the original contractor. Meanwhile, the city is going ahead with its $16.5-million lawsuit for damages against the owners of Enviro-Fill and the sports association.
The complex is bordered by 130th and Ulmer Streets, between 23rd and 26th Avenues. A second phase of work, which has not been fully funded yet, is expected to include a soccer field and another one or two baseball fields and a track.
Work still needs to be completed on the roller hockey rink as part of the first phase of the project.