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Local camp at Pearly Gates playground on ice after city squabble

Locked out at Pearly Gates

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It’s anything but a smooth ride at these Pearly Gates.

The organizers of a popular Zerega kids summer program at the Pearly Gates playground have thrown in the towel, after they say they were locked out of a vital room by the city Parks and Recreation Department.

The Westchester Square Zerega Improvement Organization’s annual “mini summer play” program at the playground has been put on ice, because Parks refused to let the group use the park’s shed for storage and shelter, said organizer Sandi Lusk.

Parks goose chase

Lusk’s group had been given a permit to set up games for kids in the playground on four summer Saturdays. The group normally uses the park house to store arts and crafts supplies, board games, and to provide shelter for staff.

But on Saturday, July 26, Lusk says the group was denied access to the park house at the playground.

Instead, she says she was led on a bureaucratic goose chase.

Finding no one at the playground to open up the house for them, Lusk sought answers at the nearby Owen Dolen Recreation Center in Westchester Square. A Parks staffer there then refused to give her the keys to the house, because house access was not specifically listed anywhere in her permit.

Lusk said someone in Parks management reached out to her later to apologize for the error — but only after she had already canceled the camp for the next few weekends, and told her counselors to make other plans.

The Parks Press Office did not respond to a request for comment before our deadline.

$2 mil for what?

Dealing with the city has become an annual headache for the Zerega program. Last year, organizers said they had to beg staff at Owen Dolen to let them into the park house, before finally getting access.

“Every year is an adventure, but at least those other years we ended up getting what we needed,” said Lusk.

The group is still holding an event at the playground on Saturday, August 16, for which it does not need access to the park house.

Camp organizers say the city miscommunication is bad news for a park with a dark past.

“When we started, no one would allow their children here,” said Lusk. “We don’t want to go back to that.”

They’re also peeved at what they charge is a lack of Park personnel patrolling the area, both during the camp and at other times.

The park was recently renovated using $2 million in public funding.

“They spent all this money to fix up the park, and yet there’s no one there to watch,” griped Woody Brundage, who works with Lusk to organize the camp.

Reach Reporter Ben Kochman at (718) 742–3394. E-mail him at bkochman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @benkochman.
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