Local leaders and elected officials celebrated the opening of a new train-themed playground at the renovated Van Nest Park at the Parks Department’s ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday, May 8.
The renovation includes new play equipment, a spray shower, swings, drinking fountain, benches, painted game lines and landscaping.
The $1.35 million project was funded by Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., Councilman James Vacca and Councilman Ritchie Torres.
The park’s railroad-themed design pays homage to the history of the neighborhood, where a 19th century railroad serviced Van Nest and the nearby Morris Park Racecourse.
The neighborhood’s namesake is the father of Abraham Ryneir van Nest, who was a director of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad.
The Van Nest Neighborhood Alliance pushed for the new park for years as part of an effort to revitalize the area, which over the years has lost community institutions including a parochial school, said VNNA counsel Bob Nolan.
In September, a much-welcomed public elementary school will open directly across from the park, serving kids in the area.
“We’ve been fighting very hard to rejuvenate the neighborhood,” said Nolan.
With the help of Community Board 11, who prioritized the project on its list of capital budget requests, the neighborhood alliance brought the playground idea to elected officials and the parks department, who broke ground on the park last May. The project was on-time and on-budget, parks officials announced at the ribbon cutting.
The triangle-shaped park at the intersection of White Plains and Unionport roads was in desperate need of an upgrade, said CB 11 chairman Tony Vitaliano.
“What I saw here 2 1/2 years ago was a waste of land, it was terrible,” he said, noting that the new park is a huge improvement.
“I’m awed, it’s really beautiful.”
The project is part of the rebuilding of not just the neighborhood, but of the borough, said Diaz, where the improvements of parks is essential.
“Shame on us if we don’t use our resources…to make sure we have the amenities the community wants and the community deserves,” he said.
At the ceremony, the elected officials and Parks Commissioner Michael Silver addressed students from the nearby Bronx Charter School of Excellence, urging them to make good use of the park.
“It’s so important as we move forward that we create these incredible spaces for present and future generations,” said Silver.