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Juniper Pk. revamp has detractors

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Under a new $2 million plan sponsored by City Councilman Thomas Ognibene (R-Middle Village), the city Parks Department will build drinking fountains, an ondeck circle for baseball players, more trees and bushes, and an underground irrigation system for the park.

The project, however, will encroach on space used by the roller hockey rink, users say, because an asphalt strip that is frequently used by hockey players for practice would be removed.

Many hockey players also say that under the new plan, baseball and football players would have to walk through the rink to enter the grounds, disrupting games.

Eileen Maloney, president of the Middle Village Roller Hockey league, which she said is run by children for children, calls the renovations "blatantly unfair" to the kids who rely on the park to practice.

"The park is constantly under construction," she said. "The place is big enough. The issue with the ballfields is this - we spent seven years to lobby for the park. That is no easy feat, but now [Juniper Park Civic Association President] Bob Holden is coming around because now he's saying he wants the perfect ballfield. If Ognibene has $2 million, don't displace the kids. They have planted so many trees it looks like a forest."

Neither Ognibene nor the Parks Department returned phone calls.

Maloney said the renovations will directly affect the more than 300 youths playing in the Roller Hockey League.

But Holden said he has spent years trying to convince the Parks Department to renovate the park because it has been so heavily used by residents of Middle Village and the surrounding communities. He said it is impossible to leave the field with the current configuration.

"Initially [Eileen Maloney] went around getting petitions that would stop bringing money into the park and the community," Holden said. "The rink is essentially in the middle of the field, and for her to be going around saying we shouldn't have this $2 million project is wrong and definitely not very responsible. She was claiming we were trying to privatize the park."

Devon Goldberg, the vice president of the Middle Village hockey league, disagrees, according to Maloney. Goldberg, who has been a professional hockey player on the West Coast for the last two years, cultivated his skills in Juniper Park, she said.

"Two years later, the $1.5 million we spent to see if we can build a perfect ballfield is a waste," Maloney said. "This is an insult to the taxpayers."

Holden said the roller hockey players would benefit from the renovation plan.

"They have their rink, they have their practice area," Holden said. "The plan we originally drew up called for an expansion of their space, and a brand new rink. This was just making something out of nothing."

But Maloney warned against any quick fix and said she would continue to plead with the city to leave the park as it is.

"Our forefathers set forth certain areas designed for recreational use," she said. "But now our kids can't go into the park. This is disgraceful. The whole thing is, the community is never aware of the fact until after it happens."

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