BY JACKSON CHEN | The Department of Parks and Recreation has revealed its draft design of a $5.8 million renovation of Bloomingdale Playground at the corner of West 104th Street and Amsterdam Avenue.
The playground, adjacent to P.S. 145 Manhattan, which is better known as the Bloomingdale School, was given a hefty budget to modernize into a state-of-the-art and all-inclusive facility back in 2014.
According to the draft presented to Community Board 7’s Inclusive Playground Task Force on July 25, the new Bloomingdale Playground would be completely redone with a design that accommodates children of all ages and abilities.
The plans include a fenced off area with a synthetic turf field next to a combination basketball, junior basketball, and tennis court that is surrounded by a track field. On the other side of the fence, the parks department included several play areas for different age ranges that have a spray shower area, an interactive art wall, and several swing sets.
While the rendering is still in preliminary form, its most prominent feature is an elevated play structure that forms a figure eight-like pathway fully accessible by users in wheelchairs. The park also features an entrance with a compass design on the ground that doubles as a sundial.
For the task force, the most important aspect of the proposal is its accessibility for disabled users, and the design allows handicapped children to reach any part of the park.
“Visually it’s just very, very appealing to me,” Elaine Hazzard, a resident at the task force meeting, said of the design. “I assume the idea is that a kid who uses a wheelchair can go all the way around it and still be included around everything that’s going on.”
The park’s proposed redesign also includes an adult fitness center, a community garden, and a renovated comfort station. Steve Simon, the parks department’s Manhattan Borough commissioner’s chief of staff, said that the design is about 80 percent complete so there was still time for comments and suggestions.
The CB7 park task force, created in the fall of 2014 to weigh in on design issues, made sure to put their requests for handicapped and hearing- and sight-impaired accessibility front and center.
Following the presentation of the proposed plan, task force members praised its sophisticated design, but also offered their critiques on ways to make the park even more accessible.
Sheldon Fine, a CB7 and task force member, said the group had sought handicapped-accessible swings as part of its earlier recommendations.
“One thing that hit me in the heart… is that the resolution was to have two handicapped swings,” Fine said during the meeting. “I think it’s better to have no swing area than to have an area with only able-bodied swings.”
Parks department staffers explained that JennSwings, which allow for handicapped access, would take up 50 percent more space than their traditional counterparts. But Simon said the department would take another look to see if the design could accommodate the JennSwings.
Another CB7 member, Mel Wymore, suggested looking at designing the comfort stations to include options for gender-neutral, single-occupancy bathrooms. Wymore said the current changes to the comfort station looked “superficial” and introducing gender-neutral options could add more to the park’s inclusivity.
Wymore also requested that the parks department, at the next meeting, present a breakdown of the budget so far. While exact numbers were not given at the meeting, parks department landscape architect Ricardo Hinkle said the design had not yet exhausted the budget.
Bloomingdale Playground is one of 47 city parks chosen as part of the Community Parks Initiative, a $285 million effort by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver to revamp smaller parks in densely populated and poorer neighborhoods throughout the city. Borough President Gale Brewer showed her support for Bloomingdale by awarding the project a $400,000 grant in the summer of 2015.
Simon said his department’s Bloomingdale Playground would set up another meeting with the CB7 task force in the coming weeks.