University Heights Playground gazebo proves folly

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The gazebo at Andrews Avenue and the Hall of Fame Terrace in University Heights was meant for picnics, or naps, or chats, or chess…anything but what the strange wooden structure is really used for.

Teens climb the gazebo to graffiti the back wall and roof of the University Heights Presbyterian Church, a 109-year old house of worship. Burglars slip through the gazebo to reach University Avenue, loaded with loot from cars parked on Andrews Avenue.

Built in tandem with a Department of Education playground opposite P.S. 15, the structure is a nuisance, University Heights Presbyterian pastor Brenda Berry said. It needs to be locked up, University Heights resident and Community Board 7 member Nancy Hartman said.

The University Heights Presbyterian scrimped and saved $60,000 to redo the church roof in 2006. Soon afterwards, Councilwoman Maria Baez helped the DOE build a playground for P.S. 15, an enormous new school. Berry barely noticed when the gazebo appeared. A gate leads from the playground to the structure.

“Then the kids started to climb it,” she said.

The back of the church is tagged. Graffiti vandals have damaged the costly roof, Berry reported. The pastor has seen water running down the inside walls of the church. Berry has yet to order the church repainted; the teens would tag it again, she said. When she asked a handyman to stretch barbed wire around the roof, teens tossed stones at him.

University Heights Presbyterian is a congregation of some 80 members, mostly Ghanaian immigrants. The church resembles a castle.

“Our congregation is not a wealthy congregati­on,” Berry said. “That [gazebo] has no purpose except for kids to desecrate our church.”

Hartman pointed out a hole in the deck of the gazebo that leads to University Avenue. She counted 13 cars broken into on a single night this summer. Lights surround the playground but have never been used, Hartman said. Berry has asked P.S. 15 administrators to address the problem, without success.

Hartman worries that the DOE will close the well-used playground to the neighborhood altogether. Children play soccer and cricket on the playground after school, she said. Hartman wants P.S. 15 to lock the gazebo gate. The structure is already weed-ridden.

“Why built a gazebo in a dark corner?” Hartman asked.

Berry fears that a graffiti vandal will slip off the church roof and sustain an injury. Would University Heights Presbyterian be held responsible? she wondered. The 52nd Precinct has stopped by to note the graffiti but has yet to stop the vandals, Berry said.

The DOE and 52nd Precinct hadn’t responded to requests for comment as of deadline.

Updated 5:26 pm, October 21, 2011
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