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Cunningham Park gets $$$ for new bathrooms

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Following City Councilman Sheldon Leffler’s (D-Hollis) withdrawal of funding for the planned construction of bathrooms at McLaughlin Playground — which Community Board 8 approved in January — it now appears certain the dollars will instead go toward renovating bathrooms in Cunningham Park.

Leffler’s chief of staff, Felicia Putter, said the borough president’s office confirmed the funds will pay for Cunningham’s bathrooms, not new bathrooms at the playground — a prospect that spurred much opposition from residents who had expressed fears of increased crime and vagrancy.

“You should note we already secured money for the Cunningham bathrooms to be refurbished,” Putter said, “but it wasn’t enough. So this money shifted over (and) will allow the bathrooms to be completed,” she said.

Putter said there is much work to be done on the bathrooms at Cunningham.

“I know there are a lot of refurbishments planned, including new stalls and water pipes. It is a pretty hefty project and needs a large amount of funding,” she said.

Putter said the original renovation cost was projected at between $200,000 and $300,000 but had ballooned beyond that, although she was not sure what the present projection was. She did say all McLaughlin Playground money would go toward Cunningham’s bathrooms and not to other park projects.

At last Wednesday’s Community Board 8 meeting, Leffler explained he had diverted funding from the playground bathrooms because he felt the Holliswood residents’ concerns were paramount.

“I was really struck with the vehemence with which the Holliswood residents were against the installation,” he said. “It seemed to me the simple thing to do was to provide rehabilitation to Cunningham Park” instead.

Leffler said Cunningham Park’s bathrooms are more widely used because of the public tennis courts there.

“My term in office is only a couple of more months,” he said. “I feel I owe a certain amount of trust to the community. My feeling is to do no harm.”

He added, “People invest their life savings in a house. This is a situation where reasonable people can differ.”

Board member Jack Jacoby asked Leffler why he had supported funding the McLaughlin Playground restroom project in the first place and for the past three years.

On Jan. 10 Community Board 8 approved plans for the restrooms by a vote of 27-11, but Leffler ultimately decided to withdraw the funds.

“I had no idea of the overwhelming opposition to the project until December,” Leffler answered. Turning to Marc Haken, a major proponent of the playground bathrooms, Leffler said, “that’s the pity here. I thought I was working with you, Marc.”

“I have uncommonly followed the rule of community boards in the past,” Leffler said. “And I have never had a hidden agenda.”

Leffler added he was proud to have helped fund McLaughlin Playground’s construction in the late 1980s.

Bob Harris, president of the West Cunningham Park Civic Association, said he was happy to hear of the additional funding for the Cunningham Park bathrooms.

“The West Cunningham Park Civic Association feels that as much money as possible should be allocated to renovate the very heavily used and badly deteriorated Cunningham Park,” he said.

Reach reporter Daniel Arimborgo by e-mail at timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300 Ext. 141.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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