C.B. 1 talks fields and fares

BY Aline Reynolds

Extra recreational space for youths, bicycling and free student metro cards dominated the discussion at last Tuesday’s meeting of Community Board 1’s Youth and Education Committee.

The Chinatown Working Group’s Education and Schools Working Team Chair Kathleen Webster presented an education initiative to the committee last week that called for an increase in funding for English Language Learners programs, a discontinuation of high-stakes testing and a reduction in classroom size in Chinatown schools. It also stresses the need for stronger communication between Chinatown school principals and administrators about new guidelines and other changes to existing schools.

The study is part of a larger community improvement plan that focuses on schools, businesses, transportation, land use, and safety. The C.W.G. the entire plan will present to City Planning next spring.

The committee voted unanimously to support the education plan, which recommends that the city D.O.E. “adhere to its stated commitment to reduce class sizes and not allow classes to exceed the size that is legally permitted.”

The committee also addressed the population boom in Lower Manhattan and the need for more ball fields. The Downtown Little League has doubled in size since 2005, as have other sports teams in Lower Manhattan, according to C.B. 1 member Mark Costello, former director of the Downtown Little League. The committee created a new fields task force, which will begin meeting in the coming weeks to assess the usage of current youth sports venues and locate new sites.

Bob Townley, executive director of Manhattan Youth, pointed out the desperate need for indoor gymnasiums and play spaces.

“In five years from now, there’s going to be so many more middle schoolers,” said Townley.

The dearth of recreation space in Downtown, Townley added, has led to a drop in the number of after-school sports activities available to students. Townley and others are pushing for a new gymnasium to be built next to the Manhattan Youth and Downtown Community Center on Warren Street.

Many of the existing fields such as the Coleman Obel field in Chinatown cater principally to adult athletes.

“There’s nothing wrong with that, but maybe you want to adjust the mix to have youth recreation,” Costello explained. “It’s important for the health of kids.”

Some public ball fields are practically inaccessible. Downtown Little League hasn’t been able to get a permit at Columbus Park, for example.

“For years, the [Parks Department] said, ‘we want to maintain it for drop-in use,’” Costello said. “Then they started giving out permits to adult sports organizations.”

Costello stressed that they’re not trying to push away adult athletes and other users of the fields. “It’s just common sense stuff that could significantly increase the amount of opportunities for everyone,” he said.

Though converting real estate into park space is virtually impossible, Costello noted, the task force will look into renovating existing fields to diversify their use. In the past, C.B.1 has secured funding to refurbish Corlears Hook Park Field and Columbus Park.

The committee also discussed a joint resolution it prepared with the Seaport and Civic Center committee about the City Hall Park bike path. C.B. 1 fears the new signage on both ends of the park instructing bikers to dismount is not sufficient.

“As we’ve maintained, it’s highly dangerous for bicyclists mounted on their bikes to be going through at the same time, not only for pedestrian safety but for their safety,” said Youth and Education Committee Chair Paul Hovitz.

The committees would like to see a Parks Enforcement Patrol officer monitor the park to ensure the bikers are dismounting; and speed bumps installed at the entrance and exit to the park. They’re demanding that the bike route be eliminated from the park altogether if there are no signs of improvement in safety over the next few months.

The committee is also pushing for free subway service for all N.Y.C. public school students, fearing the possibility of lower attendance rates when students are forced to pay partial fare under current city Department of Education rules.

But neither the D.O.E. nor the Metropolitan Transit Authority can afford to provide students with complimentary rides. Currently, the D.O.E. provides full-fare service to students who live half a mile or farther from their school. Those who live less than half a mile from their school are only eligible for half-fare Metrocards.

Requirements for yellow bus service include: students must live one mile or farther away from the school they attend, the school must offer the service, and students must be in kindergarten through sixth grade.

Moving forward, “[C.B. 1] will find exact facts and figures from the M.T.A. and D.O.E. on what the expenditures and cost projections are, what the capacity is and how many kids are actually involved in this,” Hovitz said.