Community concerned about renovated Frontera Park

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Weeks after the ribbon-cutting ceremony that marked the opening of a renovated Frontera Park, the colorful jungle gym and stationary ponies have failed to charm certain community leaders and park-goers who contend the Parks Department has left behind some unfinished business.

Topping the list of complaints are poor maintenance and the absence of a bathroom. But a top Parks official said the community has to invest its own time to care for the park because of the city’s limited resources.

“We’re going to need partners, volunteers and community partners to watch the parks for us, to help maintain the parks, to close them, to open them — to get involved,” said Richard Murphy, the Queens borough parks commissioner. “It’s their park — take it.”

Frontera Park officially reopened at the southern corner of Grand Avenue and 69th Street with a fireman’s theme Aug. 2 after a $750,000 renovation funded by former City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills).

An elaborate jungle gym and swing set sit on one side of the park, which is separated from a basketball court by planting boxes, a garden and a set of sprinklers fashioned after fire hoses.

Michael Hetzer, chairman of the parks committee for Community Board 5, rattled off an inventory of problems during the board’s Aug. 14 meeting, calling attention to loose screws that rendered the swing set “extremely dangerous” and rodents inhabiting the community garden.

“It looks like a rat’s nest and it actually is a rat’s nest,” Hetzer said of the garden, where he and other board members apparently saw rats scurrying. “It needs to be cleaned up. It’s definitely not safe.”

Gary Giordano, the community board’s district manager, said in a phone interview after the meeting that the Parks Department responded immediately to both complaints, baiting for rats and repairing the screw.

“That’s something we deal with immediately, the same day,” Murphy said. “We don’t play with things like that.”

But the absence of a comfort station — a freestanding restroom facility that the board recommended for installation at the park — is causing problems because Frontera is so heavily used, Giordano said.

“I think if there was even some consideration for one bathroom in there, even if it weren’t large, it would stop public urination,” Giordano said.

Parents and children who were visiting the park Monday cited the lack of a restroom as their No. 1 concern.

“I think the renovation is fine, but we really need a bathroom,” said Colleen Kempf, a 73rd Street resident who brought her 6-year-son and 2-year-old daughter to the park. “Parents are embarrassed to let children pee against the tree.”

But Murphy said local politicians have to secure funding for a comfort station in order for one to be built.

Although Giordano said the board is pleased with the renovation on the whole, the garden has been a point of contention because it is unclear who will tend it.

“It’s difficult to maintain those community garden areas unless they’re adopted by the community, by a community organization,” Giordano said.

The park’s volunteer warden, a neighborhood resident known by the nickname “Ace,” said the garden area was originally planted with flowers that were later mowed down by parks employees, leaving the fenced-off garden bare save for some grass.

Ace said he was disappointed the Parks Department was not able to invest more in tending the park following the renovation.

“The main deal here is maintenance,” he said. “What good is building something if you can’t maintain it?”

Murphy admitted the flowers were mistakenly cut down by parks employees.

But he stressed that members of the community have to step forward to tend their own parks, because budget constraints prevent the Parks Department from being able to effectively tend to all of its properties.

“We need a community to maintain it,” Murphy said of the community garden. “If we don’t have a community to maintain it, then the Parks is going to do the best it can to bring the weeds down. Tending to a garden is something we don’t do.”

“It’s part of our mission to green as much as we possibly can,” Murphy added. “Generally speaking the community embraces such things.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 7:16 pm, October 10, 2011
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