The city has closed a $6 million deal for more parkland in Jackson Heights.
The city Parks Department and Department of Citywide Administrative Services acquired a 24,600-square-foot asphalt play yard owned by the Garden School at 33-16 79 St. last week. It’s adjacent to 78th Street, which is closed between Northern Boulevard and 34th Avenue during the summer months, and Travers Park.
As part of the purchase, the school will use the property during the school year between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.
This is the first time the city has made such an arrangement with a private school, according to the Parks Department. However, the city has worked with 229 public schools throughout the city since 2007 to make their schools available after school hours.
“The purchase of the Garden School athletic field means that a park-starved community like Jackson Heights will get to preserve precious open space and have the opportunity to almost double the size of the neighboring Travers Park,” said Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), whose district ranked second to last for park space in a 2011 survey. The district with the least parkland neighbors Central Park.
In the months to come the Parks Department will solicit public comment on what to do with the space.
Dromm in the past has pushed for natural turf. While Travers Park has basketball and handball courts, as well as a playground, it lacks any grass.
More immediately, the department plans to install a property line fence to separate the site from the remaining Garden School land.
“For the community it adds 24,600 square feet in an area with some of the worst ratios of people to open space in the state,” Garden School Headmaster Richard Marotta said. “For the school it allows us to pay off all debt and establish an endowment.”
The private school had seen a drop in enrollment during the last few years, resulting in financial difficulties.
“The national financial collapse put some real pressure on us,” Marotta said. “But enrollment has gone up substantially and we seem to be recovering.”
A family foundation, the J.M. Kaplan Fund, granted the Garden School $800,000 while the land went through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.