The recreational sports field next to Seward Park, on Essex Street, is a popular destination for neighborhood kids. But in the past couple of months, the handball, tennis, basketball courts and running track have been unusually quiet. This is because the Department of Education, which controls the field, suddenly decided to keep non-students out of the facility.
Yesterday, State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver released a letter he sent to DOE Chancellor Dennis Walcott, urging him to reverse the decision:
In a community where children have few options for enjoying free, public outdoor activities, it is essential that we reopen this park at once, especially with summer approaching. We should be providing more opportunities for our children to engage in safe, healthy physical activities, not shutting down public access to our parks.
The field is used by the high schools located within the Seward Park Campus (formerly Seward Park High School). Until recently, members of the public were allowed to use the courts and track after the school day ended and on weekends. Ten years ago, Silver wrote, he helped the city win a grant to renovate the field. “Our community suffers from a lack of park space, and our local youth have come to rely upon the Seward Park field,” Silver added.
The Speaker’s office became aware of the situation after Len Zerling of G&S Sporting Goods (located across the street from the playing field) brought it to the attention of Silver’s staff. Zerling said kids have been coming into his store asking why the courts are closed. Maintenance staff told Zerling budget cuts are behind the closure. He tried calling the Education Department, but there was no response.
We contacted the DOE’s press office yesterday. We didn’t get a call back, either.