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.
I have called Seward Park High School and they told me that Chase Bank
allocates money to them to hire a person that closes and opens the park.
Chase stopped doing that and is now closed. They transferred me to
Richie Gorgio, their janitorial staff and I asked him why Seward Park
was closed, he told me that they have been opening the park since Chase
Bank reconstructed the park illegally because its only grounds for the
school and not the public.
I have written an informal email to the mayor, and also have made a facebook page to keep Seward Park opened to the public.
The group page is “Keep Seward Park’s Athletic Grounds Opened to the Public”
Like you said, many stores on that street rely on the amount of public
that goes to the park and buys snacks, non-alcoholic drinks, and sports
equipment. Closing the park makes the business really bad for those mom
and pop shops.
Just to let you all know there is a difference between a NYC public park and a NYC High School field. The parks department pays their staff to open, close, and up keep a park, they do not pay a school custodial staff to do that. This park is part of the Seward Park High School campus and should be looked at the same way as the Auditorium or gyms are looked at in that building. If you want to use the space you must rent it… Just like everywhere else in the worl!
@ Matthew Wong: you state that Mr Gorgio of the school janitorial staff said, ” since Chase Bank reconstructed the park illegally because its only grounds for the school and not the public.” Is the “illegally” part a typo?
If not, then it would seem peculiar that this reconstruction was done illegally b/c, according a story published in the LoDown yesterday, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s office has tried to intervene in a helpful manner as he was responsible, according to the story, for obtaining funds for the reconstruction of this athletic field (not a park).
Another story floating around on the street is that the janitorial staff, when they attempted to lock the field several weeks ago, were faced with people who were resistant to leaving when advised the facility was to be closed for the day.
The staff are not paid to police the field and as such if members of the community are not cooperating in the safe and secure use of this facilitythen some remedy needs to be taken. Evidently denying access to the community at large is part of the remedy.
At the moment, what you are saying is correct but what we are fighting for is to keep the park opened to the public. If Chase cannot pay the custodial staff, then the city should give a portion of the funds to Seward Park High School to keep it opened. The DOE can afford to pay one worker to open/close the park on the weekend. An empty park calls for an increase in crime.
So sorry about that, I have to rephrase what I meant to say. Mr. Gorgio stated that since Chase had reconstructed the field, they have been opening the park to the public but it was done illegally. When the janitorial staff tries to close the park, they can either tell them to leave and if they do not leave, then he/she can call the police to get them out from loitering. I agree that the staff are not paid to police, hence calling the police would have been the right choice.
Closing the park to the community at large arrives at sanctions to too many other people from the neighborhood which may cause many more problems such as moving on to other parks and in which may cause the overflow of people. Therefore sanctions to members of the other parks.
Once again, I reiterate that this is not a “Park”.
It is what it is, and that is a school athletic field.
I do not understand your point, other than you think we need more parks. Or that people who are “problems” are those who populate this field and then it would seem you are arguing against yourself.
If the park is open to the public at any given time, then any athletic activities for the school (which the field is a part of) is in jeopardy. The field is used for INSTRUCTION… In any other communities a high school field is not a community park. As you are aware, space in NYC is limited… Why take away from the students? If it was NYC Parks Department run facility this would be a non-issue… It’s not and run by the DOE. If Chase and the DOE work something out (which is quite far fetched), then so be it, but as of now it is a SCHOOL ATHLETIC FIELD. When the field is not in use it can be rented like any other space.
Under the Bloomberg administration and the governance structure of Mayoral control of the schools, our public schools are less and less public.
In addition to closing schools and replacing them with publicly funded, but privately managed, charter schools, The DoE has initiated huge increases in no-bid corporate vendor contracts and cozily coordinated lobbying of our legislature by corporate backed lobby groups in concert with the DoE’s top-level civil servants to favor priviatization.
Our public school buildings and their yards have been commodified by the DoE, while the school budget under Bloomberg has more than doubled, from $11 billion in 2001 to over $23 billion currently
Not only do “outside” groups like our own Community Board have to obtain permits to rent space to hold mandatory public community meetings, but even the schools’ rights to hold their own activities and meetings (such as school based management teams, PTA’s, fundraisers and the like) have been greatly reduced under Bloomberg.
There is a program for hundreds of city school yards called the Joint Operated Playground in which Parks/DoE have an MOU to jointly operate the yards.
As in any interagency arrangement, it can be hard to actually implement and operate on the day-to day level and too often ends up in a lot of finger pointing.
When funded and well manged, however, it can be a model for how our public space can be shared maximally by all.
Literally dozens of our local school yards are closed to the public during the school day but are open after school, evenings and weekends for the community to use and enjoy.
How these JOPs were designated seems to be an accident of history more than any kind of community based planning effort.
Some work well and some do not, depending on the level of usage and good faith efforts of parks employees and school custodians.
Ideally there would be clear rules for how the parks get opened, closed, monitored, maintained and repaired in these joint operations, but that is not always the case.
For many years the Community Education Council for CSD 1 has been advocating for the community to look at these parks, yards and NYCHA playgrounds as a community resource and work to coordinate and rationally manage that space in a way that is fair and beneficial to all.
As it stands, some yards are closed and used exclusively by their after school programs and teams, while others are opened to the public and must be shared after 3pm. Fields like the Verizon Field under the Manhattan Bridge are used by HS teams and adult leagues but lock the public out of public space.
We would be pleased to work with our electeds or any community groups on this issue of equity of access to public recreational space.
Thank you Lisa. It makes no sense in these times of decreasing revenues to not utilize public space for the public. Sharing is something that adults always think they need to teach children (who are in fact much better at it). Apparently some of us have need of a refresher.
As a member of the Sara Roosevelt Park Coalition I would love to see more Parks partnerships with potential recreational spaces especially on the LES where we have so little for so many.
We are facing massive cut backs to after school programming for our teens and younger children. We need these spaces, not as a luxury, but as a basic, vital need for our youth.
Either that, or fairly tax the people who have benefited so nicely from our skewed financial system so we can all “rent” what we have in fact already paid taxes for?
Not to say that we need more parks but we have empty fields that are unoccupied. What’s the point? Plus other fields are also building up in population, so why don’t we use an empty field to its capacity? I don’t see how you couldn’t understand what I am saying. I’m saying that closing that field can cause trouble between the usual people who goes to Seward Park field and others who belong/goes to other fields when they disburse to other parks/fields.
Plus I really do not see your argument, if anything your argument comes to the result of, leaving a school field empty just because the school wants to keep it empty.
Why waste the field for so many months?
It doesn’t take anything away from students, when class is in session, students gets their fair share of gym time. It is only opened tot he public after school, weekends and summers.
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