In addition to the work on the lake, the surrounding promenade was reconstructed and improvements were made to the water quality and natural habitat. The lake has newly installed drainage outlets, and an island for turtles and other animals was created. A new aeration system was built as well.
In sum, the project cost $2.85 million, including $245,000 allocated by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the rest from the City Council.
The play school, part of the city Parks and Recreation Department, overlooks both the lake and the park. Under the project, the building was treated to expose its brick facade. In addition, glass doors and blocks were installed to add natural light to the playschool.
Taking the podium after the graduation ceremony, City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe reminded the small gathering of local residents and proud parents of the event's importance.
"It's a great day for this community and this park," Benepe said, while a majority of the audience used their new diplomas as either telescopes or drumsticks. "Queens happens to have some of the best parks."
Before the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Benepe sang the "Spongebob Square Pants" song with the young graduates in the audience who were on their best behavior during the event, anticipating the cookies and juice that followed.
He recalled that not too long ago, the area was unfit for wildlife and the lake was "boggy" and "choked with algae."
"You don't see any buildings. All you see is trees," he said, with City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) and state Assemblyman Barry Grodenchik (D-Flushing) sitting to his left.
Liu, who brings his 3-year-old son to the park, said the project solidifies Kissena Park's status within Queens.
"This is far more beautiful, in my opinion, than any park in New York City," he said to a cheering crowed. "This park is a center of our community in Flushing and northeast Queens," Liu later added.
It was Liu's predecessor, former City Councilwoman Julia Harrison, who gave the project its initial funding of just over $1.7 million. Liu said the maintenance of public parks is an important responsibility of local governments.
Grodenchik, like Liu, found the day gratifying because of his personal experiences at the park.
"I'm like a little kid today. I'm so excited to be here," he said, recalling that his father played tennis in Kissena Park and as a child, Grodenchick rode bikes with friends around the park and ice skated on the lake. Even now he plays golf there when he has the time, which is not as often as he would like.
"It's just such a great park. It's a gem," he said. "It's just a fantastic place to be"
Not only is it a gem, but it's a place local residents would prefer to keep a secret.
"If you're new to the park, don't tell anyone about it," said Max Kahn, a board member of the Kissena Park Civic Association. Kahn said he has always picked up trash to keep the park clean, a habit he traces back to his parents.
"I've been living in this area for about 30 years and I've always been involved with the park ... I'm always interested in keeping the park clean," he said. "That's my style."
Kahn, who uses the park's tennis courts, noted the lake's restoration has not only improved the water quality but said now residents no longer need to devote themselves to maintaining the park. "We have a lot of time for other things," he said.
And for some, like Fresh Meadows resident Susan Bernstein, those "other things" mean simply enjoying the park.'
"Here you can enjoy nature and beauty. It's therapeutic," she said.
A spokeswoman for the Parks Department said it is not unusual for the agency to combine events with those special in a children's life.
Reach intern Jennifer Misthal by e-mail at news@times
©2004 Community News Group
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