CB3 Tries One More Time to Engage Education Department on School Yard Use

kickball les

Kickball on a Lower East Side school playground; 2012.

Who knew kickball could be controversial?  Residents living around two school yards on the Lower East Side have been dealing with the noise and bright lights created by adult sports leagues for a few years now.  Last night, they took their concerns to Community Board 3’s youth & education committee.  While locals are pretty exacerbated with the organizations using the facilities — the bigger issue for CB3 is the Department of Education’s (DOE) failure to involve impacted neighborhoods before its school yards are made available for rentals.

The most recent complaints are coming from residents who live near P.S. 142 on Attorney Street.  For several years, a company called New York Social Sports Club has paid the DOE for the use of several school yards, including at PS. 142 and the nearby M25 complex (which includes Marta Valle High School).  This year, it has been partnering with a non-profit group, the Notwork Network, for the LES games, which include post-game get-togethers at local bars.

Last night, the committee heard from Phil Penman, whose wife started a petition to evict the sports leagues.  She decided not to attend the meeting herself after receiving threatening emails and phone calls.  Penman said his family is forced to keep the windows closed because the players are so loud. “Stadium-style” lights shine in their apartment, making the dinner hour unbearable, he said.  Another local resident, Francis Didonato said the leagues should go someplace else. “There are lots of schools in the east 70’s. Let’s put it there and see how that goes,” he suggested.

The founder of New York Social Sports, Amy Short, was also on hand last night.  Short told Penman she was sorry his wife had been threatened and said, “that energy is not coming from us,” but added that the woman, in a DNA Info story, compared kickball players to drug dealers and gang members. In the report, she was quoted as saying, “”I have lived in the neighborhood when there were gangs running around, heroin, but this is one of the most annoying, obnoxious things.”

Short said her group has been playing on the LES since 2007 and that she “tries to be as responsive (to concerns) as we can be.”  On many occasions, Short explained, they have tried to move more games to local parks (such as East River Park) but no space is available.  At M.S. 25, the organization donated a “smart board” worth $6,000 as a gesture of gratitude to the school.  Short said New York Social Sports caters to young professionals, mostly new to the city, who are lonely and want to make friends.

Summer of 2012; Rivington Court.

Summer of 2012; Rivington Court.

This is not the first time private use of public school yards has come up on the Lower East Side. Last summer, Nike took over the yard behind the building housing three schools — Lower East Side Prep High School, the School for Global Leaders, and Marta Valle High School.  At the time, CB3 urged the Department of Education to consult with the neighborhood before it decides to offer up its yards, especially for nighttime use.  Last fall, a DOE spokesperson rejected the plea, telling The Lo-Down, “schoolyard use does not fall under the purview of the Community Board.”

Last night, the committee drafted a new resolution calling on the DOE to meet with the community board about its leasing procedures and to work with CB3 to create a system for involving the community in the future.  Ben Goodman, who works for the Education Department’s public affairs office, said he would take the request back to his bosses, but he could not make any promises.

Meantime, Short agreed to end this summer’s kickball games by 9 p.m. In the past, they have gone to 10 or 11.