Parks Department Commissioner Adrian Benepe ducked under an outdoor spray shower at Melrose Playground on Tuesday, July 7 to the delight of Phipps CDC Summer Day Campers. Moments earlier, Benepe and neighborhood leaders cut the ribbon on the renovated playground. In addition to the spray shower, it boasts water fountains, climbing structures, a rose bush and a teeter-totter.
“Happy days are here again,” Benepe told the day campers. “The playground is open and you get to play in it.”
The playground faces Cortlandt Avenue between E. 153rd and E. 156th streets and is bordered on three sides by the Melrose Houses. It serves the Jackson Houses as well. The renovation cost $1.6 million, taken from the $220 million Croton Water Filtration Plant Mitigation Fund. Six years ago, the Department of Environmental Protection set aside $243 million for Bronx parks improvements. In return, the state legislature agreed to let the DEP build a filtration plant under Van Cortlandt Park. Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo and former Assemblywoman Aurelia Greene attended the Melrose Playground ribbon cutting. Greene is the deputy borough president.
“We in the Assembly worked to secure the Croton money,” she said. “This playground is a breath of fresh air.”
Greene urged the day campers to help maintain Melrose Playground, as did Arroyo’s daughter, Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo. When the younger Arroyo was elected in 2005, she heard from Melrose residents.
“You asked that the playground be redone,” Arroyo said. “Here is the proof that you matter and the proof that government listens.”
Community Board 1 parks committee chair Herman Francis was also on hand. In the past, drunks, drug dealers and knuckleheads have populated Melrose Playground, Francis said. There is a liquor store steps away on Cortlandt Avenue. Francis hopes the renovation will bring more housing authority children to the park; too many stay inside on hot summer days, he said.
The playground also added chess and checkers tables, plantings and a new drainage system. For years, it offered only rusty swings and a busted wading pool, Melrose Houses resident Robin Morgan said. The renovated playground has age-appropriate equipment for toddlers, children and adults. Melrose Houses resident Manuel Cruz was in Puerto Rico on vacation. When he returned, the renovation was complete.
“I was surprised,” Cruz said. “The playground is beautiful.”
The annual Melrose Houses family day will take place at the playground on Saturday, August 15 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Parks Department has completed 31 Croton Water Filtration Plant Mitigation Fund projects thus far, to the tune of $64 million; 44 more projects are in design or under construction.