Morris Park residents are turning their attention to renaming Van Nest Playground. And this time, there won’t be a battle over whose name is going on the sign.
Members of the Van Nest Neighborhood Alliance had suggested, months back, that a new school on Bronxdale Avenue be named after Chief James Romito, an officer at the New York Port Authority that grew up in Van Nest and was killed on 9/11. Their suggestion came too late and the school was named after Lieutenant Curtis Meyran and firefighter John Bellew, both of whom were Bronx locals that died in the Black Sunday fire.
Instead, in a gesture that some say is just as meaningful, city officials have gotten on board with naming a small park in Van Nest after Romito. The Van Nest Playground is a rhombus-shaped space located between White Plains and Unionport roads, Mead Street, and Van Nest Avenue. The space, surrounded by a fence and dotted with large, aged trees along its four corners, includes a jungle gym with slides and ladders, another smaller structure with monkey bars, a swingset, and other standard park fare like benches and a water fountain.
Community Board 11 member Joe Bombace said that if all goes well, this space will not only be renamed Chief James A. Romito Park, but could also be renovated and redesigned.
“There are a lot of negative amenities,” he said. “We want to connect the dots. Rezone it and put in some more features.”
If residents have their way, the process will include closing off Victor Street, where there is some green space across the road, and expanding the playground to that area. If that were to work out, some have suggested angled parking spaces along the side of the park.
They will also request, at a “scoping meeting” at the park on Friday morning, October 1, that the Parks Department put in some kind of additional athletic element so as to appeal to older kids.
“We’d like to have a basketball court, or possibly a handball court, something for children of all ages,” said Bombace.
“Right now it’s basically a park for children ages four to ten, but we want it to have something for teens too, because they’re the ones that if they’re bored, they will leave the community and get into trouble.”
Bombace and other members of CB 11 are also planning to ask that the park be locked at night, and will suggest a small garden be put in for senior citizens.
In addition to the scoping meeting, the issue was raised at a budget consultation meeting on Tuesday, September 28, at which CB11 met with the various agencies to discuss setting funds aside for soon-to-be Romito Park.
“We’re going to push for reconstruction and renovation of this park,” said Bombace. “But the renaming is separate and should happen regardless. We got more than a green light, we got the double green light, because we got the chief’s father Anthony and his sister Laura on board.”
Councilman Jimmy Vacca confirmed that all necessary paperwork is into the Parks Department and that although they have not officially approved the renaming, he is “hopeful that Parks will agree to the proposal and then we can work on establishing a timetable.”
George DeGasperis, who knew Romito growing up, has recently been fighting to get another Van Nest friend, Peter Wiesneifski, added to the war memorial located right in front of Van Nest Playground.
DeGasperis said the ideal scenario would be if all the documents came through, in both efforts, by Veteran’s Day. This year, that will be Thursday, November 11.
If it works out by then, Van Nesters envision a large, double-celebration during which Wiesneifski’s name would be unveiled on the Vietnam memorial and Romito’s name would grace the park.
“If we can’t do for our own, who are we going to do it for?” asked Bombace.