Volume 23, Number 9 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | July 9 - 15, 2010
Downtown Express photo by Aline Reynolds
The new children’s playground at West Thames Park is getting mixed reviews from local B.P.C. parents.
Cheers and jeers for a new playground in BPC park
By Aline Reynolds
After eight months of renovations, the new playground at West Thames Park re-opened last Thursday to a hoard of play-hungry children. The renovations are part of Route 9A, a larger project headed by the New York State Department of Transportation to connect the World Trade Center site with Battery Park City.
“In refurbishing this park, we have invested in our children, our country’s future leaders,” said N.Y.S.D.O.T. Acting Commissioner Stanley Gee. “This park will be a legacy in Lower Manhattan for years to come.”
Representatives from the Battery Park City Authority and nearby residents were joined by state and federal officials to celebrate the re-opening. Three youngsters from Battery Park City Day Nursery, representing the hundreds of children that use the playground, helped cut the ribbon. The park’s level lawn, previously sloped, is an improved recreational space for families. The park’s new northern section, on the other side of the Rector Street pedestrian bridge, consists of a community garden for botanists. Other new features include a basketball court, two adult half courts and a 6,200-square-foot dog run for canines of all sizes.
The renovations cost $9.4 million, part of a $4.55 billion sum the Federal Transit Administration allocated towards transportation infrastructure recovery following the 9/11 attacks.
“The completion of West Thames Park is yet another symbol of progress on the restoration of the Battery Park City neighborhood that was so severely damaged by the events of September 11, 2001,” said Governor David Paterson in a statement.
“While the rebuilding of Ground Zero and the rehabilitation of the West Side Highway are still underway, residents and visitors will be able to use this park in the heart of the neighborhood,” said U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler, who couldn’t attend the ceremony.
“I am delighted to see this much-needed park has been newly renovated and is now open for our community,” said Speaker Silver, also absent from the ceremony.
The playground, located on the Southern end of the park, was bustling with cheerful parents and children last Thursday. Many of the families are happy with the new recreational space.
“It’s fabulous,” said Monika Bialokur, a parent who brings her twins to the park a few times a week. Bialokur lives with her family in Liberty Court residences at 200 Rector Place. “They’ve done a great job at redesigning the space and making the most out of it,” she added. Her twins spent hours playing on the new spider dome. “It’s fantastic for their coordination,” Bialokur said.
“It’s very open,” parent and B.P.C. resident Jessica Holder said of the park’s layout. “You can kind of be anywhere in the park and see your child.” Holder’s daughter, Presley, spends most of her time playing in the water fountains and the spider dome.
But some parents have qualms with the new children’s playground. Its sand blows into their hair, eyes and ears while they watch their children play, Koethe and Valcin said.
“When you’re walking home, you have grit all over you,” said David Valcin, who lives at 21 West Street. “You feel exfoliated.”
An anonymous resident at Liberty Court, a 46-story condominium adjacent to the park, said that about half a cup a day of sand is flying onto the balconies of the building. However, the property manager of the building said she hadn’t received any official complaints about sand build-up.
Weiss confirmed at Tuesday night’s meeting that the sand has been approved by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). Board members chimed in that high winds might contribute to the sand swirling around the playground and high into the air, but decided not to probe the concern for the time being.
“The water is flooding up onto the walk” rather than draining into the ground, said Valcin.
Drifting sand and dirty water can spread germs, Valcin added. He has seen the kids squirt the play water into their mouths with water guns. The ground water sprinkler the kids play in was not working for two weeks. D.O.T. spokesperson Adam Levine said they’re looking into these problems.
Valcin pointed to the tree next to the children’s playground, which is now being held up by wooden slabs after strong winds almost knocked it down.
The tire swing is also a safety concern. Two children banged their heads against the swing’s wooden beam on Memorial day weekend, when the park opened, causing B.P.C. resident Bill Schoenmaker, a parent of one of the children, to dismantle the swing. The swing was reinstalled for Thursday’s opening but after continued complaints the D.O.T. removed the swing on Wednesday.
Yet another safety issue is the gate at the southern entrance of the playground, which is only a few feet high. Parents fear that children could wander outside of the park and onto West Street.
“It’s easy to open,” said Liberty Court resident Amy Koethe. “If four-year-olds can open it, it’s not a good thing.”
Parents believe the play area’s long, narrow structure makes it harder to monitor the children’s whereabouts.
But when all is said and done, the parents are happy to see the West Thames Park reopened. “It was a long winter without it,” Koethe said.
Route 9a, meanwhile, is nearly complete – the State D.O.T. said it is awaiting the completion of the World Trade Center site to finish up the surrounding roadwork. Apart from that, the Department must complete aesthetic treatments to the retaining walls of the Battery Park underpass, according to Vivian Woo, community relations specialist at the State D.O.T.