College Pt. children get their own ballfields back

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The long-awaited College Point ballfields officially opened for play Saturday, after being closed for more than six years because of an illegal dumping scandal that left 1,300 children without a place to play sports.

"It's been a difficult time," said Jerry Castro, president of the College Point Little League. "People were looking at me and saying, 'Why don't we have fields in our community?' This should give us a shot in the arm. It's a beautiful field."

The league has spent the last several seasons searching for fields it could use, Castro said. It borrowed permits from other leagues and arranged interleague games to play on other fields, he said.

Some of the diamonds that were used were in poor shape, said Kevin Flanigan, a College Point father whose son, Eddie, 10, has been playing in the league for five years.

"He never saw these fields," Flanigan said of his son. "He didn't know any better. He was all excited about coming down here today."

After opening the ballfields at Ulmer Street and 25th Avenue during the spring and summer, the city will temporarily close the fields in September to put the finishing touches on the park's landscaping. Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, who came out to inspect the fields Saturday, was already deciding whether to plant cherry or apple trees along the pedestrian road leading into the park.

"This looks good, except it's missing trees," Benepe said.

An adult baseball field opened two days later on Monday, allowing wet spots on the field to dry, Benepe said. No permits had been filed to use the fields as of Monday, meaning that no adult leagues have sought permission to play there, a Parks Department spokeswoman said.

A new roller hockey rink is also being built, and materials for it arrived earlier than scheduled, said a representative from the city Department of Design and Construction. The rink could be completed by the end of May, he said.

A comfort station has also been completed.

A soccer field was planned for the second phase of construction, and a Parks Department spokeswoman said the money for the next phase had been allocated for fiscal year 2005, which begins July 1. The delay puts the First Sport Club of College Point soccer club in danger of being evicted from the Long Island Junior Soccer League, which is demanding the club produce home field permits by the July registration.

The ballfields were closed in 1997 during renovations by Enviro-Fill, a Flushing company, after illegal construction debris was found on the 22-acre site. Enviro-Fill officials and demolition company owners were later convicted and sentenced for dumping the waste.

Responsibility for testing the land for contaminants, cleaning up and building the fields has since passed among several government agencies and contractors.

"A lot of work, often a lot of controversy, goes into opening a park," Benepe said. "As long as kids have a safe, clean place to play - children come first."

Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who was president of the College Point Sports Association at the time of the dumping and held a rally April 3 to press for the fields' opening, stopped into the official opening Saturday but was annoyed he and other politicians were not invited.

"I would have thought you would have invited the elected officials," he said to Benepe. "Commissioner, this is childish."

But the children on the field were too excited to notice.

"This is awesome - better than the other fields," said 10-year-old Andrew Rosas, referring to the diamonds the team played on last year. "They didn't even have a home-run post. They just had a wooden wall in the back."

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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