Parks hesitant on VN Playground expansion

Although the Morris Park and Van Nest community had been confident about plans to renovate and expand Van Nest Playground, it looks as though, for the time being, an updated wish list presented to reps from the Parks Department at a Friday, October 1 “scoping meeting” will remain just that: a wish list.

“They don’t have the budget for what we want,” said Pirtam Shradhanand, president of the Van Nest Neighborhood Alliance. “But two people did say they’ll help us see what we can do.”

Indeed, there was a bright side to the bad news that Bronx Borough Commissioner for Parks, Hector Aponte, broke to members of the VNNA, Community Board 11, and elected officials at the scoping meeting.

Aponte estimated the cost of renovating Van Nest Playground at $5 million, and reminded community members that there is currently only $450,000 in the can at present — 250 from Councilman Jimmy Vacca, 100 from Councilman Joel Rivera, and 100 from Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr.

However, two representatives from the Parks Department that were present, a project manager and a landscape architect, told members of the VNNA that they would be happy to spend a week on some rough sketches that would at least outline where to start on a first phase.

Joe Bombace, a trustee of VNNA and outspoken member of CB 11, said that according to Parks, the next step will be for ULURP, the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, to set up a study of the playground and surrounding area.

The study itself will cost some money, and could take up to two years until completion.

“At least now we know exactly what process to expect in the next two years,” said Bombace. “We have lots of time to allocate this funding. There will be light at the end of the tunnel.”

The “wish list” has also changed since its original version.

In a letter dated April 9, Bernadette Ferrara, on behalf of the VNNA, wrote to Aponte that the group requested a meeting with him, and wanted an exact estimate for the project as soon as possible. The letter listed desired changes for Van Nest Playground, including higher fences, stone tables with checkers on it, a small community garden for senior citizens, and jungle gym equipment.

But the list also asked for a bathroom house, which Aponte explained on October 1 would on its own cost almost $1.5 million. It was nixed, as was the request for a large flag on the war monument, which Aponte said could not be feasibly attached to the structure.

Bombace said that at this point, community members have asked for Parks to make suggestions of their own, but overall they want to model the park after Pearly Gates Playground, which just opened recently on St. Peters Avenue and features separate entrances for older and younger children, as well as play equipment galore.

The renaming of the playground for Chief James A. Romito, meanwhile — the Port Authority officer and local hero that died in 9/11 — should be able to proceed as planned regardless of the expansion project. Sources say they are merely waiting on paperwork from Parks.

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