Idlewild center on its way

Barbara Brown urges Community Board 13 to approve plans for a new environmental center in Idlewild Park. Photo by Rich Bockmann
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For years, the Eastern Queens Alliance has operated a makeshift nature center out of a trailer in Springfield Gardens’ Idlewild Park, but all that is set to change as the city Parks Department plans to build a state-of-the-art facility for the group next year.

In 2009, the borough president’s office set aside $5 million for an environmental center, and on Monday night the project’s architect presented those plans to Community Board 13.

The park, which was used in the 1970s as a construction-waste landfill started undergoing significant ecological restoration in the 1990s, and the alliance has been acting as a steward of the park for the past several years.

Architect Blake Middleton said the new center would incorporate eco-friendly design features — such as walkways and pathways that allow water to permeate into the ground and a faux-wood exterior made of recycled plastic-milk jugs — that would reflect the park’s transformation.

“It’s all about restoring the water connection to the land and into the water table itself,” he said. “It tells a great story about recycling as well as the preservati­on/reclama­tion of water.”

Middleton’s design calls for a 5,000-square-foot building set in the eastern section of the park adjacent to the cricket fields. It would include a reception area, exhibition space, restrooms, space for the support staff and two classrooms with enough space for 60 to 70 students.

“The building is very much geared around public education,” he said.

Barbara Brown, chairwoman of the Eastern Queens Alliance and director of the park’s preservation committee, said the center would mainly be used during the weekdays when it would host classes for children.

Middleton said the LEED-certified building was designed to stand up to the harsh conditions of its environment, including the salt spray coming off Jamaica Bay and the noise pollution from planes flying in and out of nearby John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The center is also sited atop a plateau in the park well above the flood plane, just in case global warming causes Jamaica Bay to take up some more real estate in the future.

Middleton said that if all goes according to plan, he expects construction to begin next summer and take around 12 to 14 months.

Before the community board voted unanimously to approve the plans, Brown gave them her thumbs-up.

“Pretty much what they’re presenting lives up to what we had asked for,” she said. “We are anxious to get into the center.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Posted 5:26 pm, September 26, 2012
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