The reconstruction of Mary Whalen Playground in Woodhaven is moving forward.
The $1,180,000 project to completely overhaul the hillside facility, named for a late Woodhaven civic leader, on Park Lane South and 79th Street, may begin next year, the Parks Department announced at a meeting Tuesday evening at Oak Ridge in Forest Park, just up the hill from the playground. The meeting was hosted by Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), who is allocating $1 million toward the renovation.
The Parks Department designer, Ricardo Hinkle, unveiled his plans for the space at the meeting. The proposals include separating the age-appropriate locations by creating a park for toddlers, another for children and a teen sports area, which will be a concrete area in the north end of the park.
The plans for the playground include a greater tree canopy to break up the large concrete area that currently exists. An Americans with Disabilities Act compliant ramp, which doesn’t currently exist, will be built as well.
The park’s theme will be based on the glacier that used to end at Forest Park and created the moraine the park and the playground sit on. Part of the park will be shaped like a glacier weaving through a mountain valley. New swings and play equipment will also be installed.
Ed Wendell, former president of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association, had some concerns with the plans, notably the height of the fence, safety and the lack of restrooms. The fences facing Park Lane South are slated to be 4 feet high, but because they are on top of a 2- to 3-foot retaining wall on a hill that’s several feet above Park Lane South, Wendell was concerned that children would climb the fence, fall over and be seriously hurt or killed.
Hinkle noted his concern and said that Parks Department standards are to build fences that are 3 1/2 feet high, so the fence they are constructing is actually higher than usual.
On safety, Wendell said he had spoken to police who were concerned about shrubbery blocking the view of park spaces, allowing criminals to conduct illegal activity out of sight. Noting that the plans include greenspace dividing the areas for younger children from the part designed for teenagers, he wanted to know if input was solicited from cops.
“We don’t usually talk to the NYPD about these plans,” Hinkle said. “But we are cognizant of security concerns.”
He noted that the plans do not call for shrubs high enough to block views within the park and most of the plant life will be high trees to give the playground a shady canopy.
On bathrooms, Wendell said people had asked about restrooms and some noted that Mary Whalen Playground used to have ones that were removed.
Joanne Amagrande-Savarese, the chief of staff of the Parks Department’s Queens office, said bathrooms could double the cost of the project and delay it.
Crowley said she had seen the plans for the first time last week and wanted to move forward with them as quickly as possible in order to get construction started next year.
Despite concerns, most present praised the proposal.
“I think this is a great plan,” said Community Board 9 member and Woodhaven resident Jim Coccovillo. “This community has been waiting for something to be done at this park.”
The plan is for the playground drawings to be finalized soon and the work go out to bid in the next few months. Construction could start next year and be completed by 2016.
The park was last renovated in 1991 when new play equipment was installed.