New sports field breaks ground

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The Jamaica Hills field, where former Gov. Mario Cuomo spent much of his childhood playing baseball and which is home to Thomas Edison High School sports teams, is getting a major face-lift, complete with new synthetic turf and misting stations, officials announced last week.

Borough President Helen Marshall, City Councilman Jim Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) and Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski officially broke ground on the Joseph Austin Synthetic Field at Grand Central Parkway and 164th Place last Thursday.

The field is named after Joseph Austin, a longtime youth league coach from Jamaica who worked with Cuomo when he was in elementary and junior high school. Gennaro noted Cuomo was so moved by his former coach that when the field was named after Austin while he was governor, Cuomo made the trip from Albany for the renaming ceremony.

“I know projects like this one help students to grow in mind and spirit,” said Marshall, who allocated $3.7 million for the field.

Officials said the move from natural turf to synthetic turf will make the field more durable and able to better withstand the wear and tear that comes from nearly round-the-clock use by Thomas Edison HS students and sports teams and the community at large.

Soccer, softball and baseball teams from Thomas Edison HS will use the field for practice as will students in gym class.

In addition to the synthetic turf, there will be new misting stations to help athletes cool off, a drinking fountain and an equipment storage container. The field will be ADA accessible.

“This field has always been a field of dreams,” Gennaro said. “It’s been here 50 years. Mario Cuomo got his start on this field. Now it should be a modernized field of dreams.”

Lewandowski said she expects the field will open by the fall.

“In a few short months we’ll be cutting the ribbon on a beautiful new synthetic turf field,” she said.

Thomas Edison HS Principal Anthony Barbetta said he and students are thrilled they will have a new field.

“We’ve been looking at this beat-up field for years,” Barbetta said. “Our kids come out here all the time for gym because we have one gymnasium for 2,600 students. This field is a big welcome, and I’m really looking forward to it.”

Students also said the field will be a relief after having spent countless hours cleaning their field before practices and games.

“With the new field, we won’t have to do raking as much with the synthetic turf,” said Zeena Cadena, a former captain of the softball team and a Thomas Edison HS graduate from Flushing.

Thomas Edison HS senior Janeece Collazo, a softball player, said when it rained the field would become so messy and they seemed to always be covered in mud.

“In bad weather there’d be just puddles and puddles of mud,” Collazo said. “It was awful.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 5:58 pm, October 10, 2011
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