This morning members of the general public were once again allowed inside the Seward Park athletic field, which the Department of Education had closed to non-students several months ago. As we reported on Friday, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver announced the DOE had finally agreed to reverse its decision. Silver wrote a letter to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, making the case that the basketball and tennis courts and running track are a valuable community resource — not just an amenity for the high schools on the Seward Park campus.
It turns out City Council member Margaret Chin also wrote a letter to Walcott – a strongly worded one. Among other points, she was very critical of the DOE for choosing to close the recreational area without consulting, or even informing, the community:
…This sudden decision by the Department of Education was made without any outreach to the community board or to local elected officials. The Department of Education was undoubtedly aware that many area residents make use of these fields. I find it inexcusable that the Department failed to reach out to local stakeholders, and specifically, to my office before closing these fields to the public. As the City Council representative for this area I would have appreciated the opportunity to work with the Department on a solution prior to the decision to close down the fields.
This summer, access has been restricted to another DOE recreational area on the Lower East Side. The school district approved a request from Nike to set up “Rivington Court,” a summer-long venue located adjacent a public school building. Echoing the concerns about the Seward Park facility, residents and the community board complained that they were not advised about the decision. A DOE spokesperson told The Lo-Down, “schoolyard use does not fall under the purview of the Community Board.”