Assembly Member William Colton is calling on southern Brooklyn residents to take to their cars to protest the conversion of a Gravesend schoolyard into a public park.
In a strongly-worded press release sent Tuesday afternoon, Colton called on residents to join “a community motorcade” in opposition to a city plan to remake the schoolyard at David A Boody I.S. 228 and open it to the public.
“I believe that this project will create serious safety, health, and quality of life issues not only for the neighborhood but also for I.S. 228 which has been a shining star of quality education,” Colton said in the release. He called on neighbors to “act now to stop the city government from forcing this on our community.”
The angry statement was not Colton’s first regarding the park proposal. In November, he circulated a petition that said “the public will reject opening a public park next to IS228, without a continuous police presence to protect us against drug dealing and gangs.”
The $4.6 million project, which has been in the works for several years, would add greenery, seating, an open-air performance space and sports facilities to what is currently a collection of asphalt basketball and handball courts. The city’s Parks Department, which organized a community visioning session at the school in April 2017 and formally announced its intention to revamp the site that summer, says it plans to begin construction in March and expects to complete the project by March 2022.
But several local stakeholders insist the nearby McDonald Playground is sufficient, and say a new park would attract crime and impose financial hardships on I.S. 228, which will be responsible for maintaining it.
“Ten years ago we had 800 students, now we have 1600,” Dominick D’Angelo, the school’s principal, told Bklyner. “We’d be responsible for maintaining the park. Our custodial staff can’t even maintain the current building. We don’t want it.”
Last week, Community Education Council 21, a local body made up of school parents and appointees from the Borough President’s office, passed a resolution opposing the plan, accusing Mayor Bill de Blasio of “neglect and fiscal irresponsibility” for “taking the resources away from the school.” The school’s parent-teacher association backed that resolution.
The local community board also passed a resolution asking the city to delay construction to allow for community input and review of the finalized plan, which the board’s district manager said she first saw when the city presented it at a December 2020 board meeting.
“We were surprised because, in the past, Parks has always presented designs for review and recommendations,” said Marnee Elias-Pavia, the district manager of Brooklyn Community Board 11. “Generally speaking, reconstructed playgrounds are a great thing. The concerns we have after looking at the design is that there are a lot of different uses proposed which abut residential homes in the area.”
The Parks Department referred a request for comment to the Department of Education (DOE), which did not directly address questions about maintenance costs or school overcrowding but said it would work to resolve community complaints.
“We support our schools and facilities staff in providing a high-quality learning environment – both inside and outside of the school building,” said Nathaniel Styler, a DOE spokesperson. “The City committed to delivering a nearly 5 million dollar investment to the neighborhood and we will work with the Parks Department and stakeholders in the school community to come to a resolution.”
One local community member, Craig Hammerman, who previously served as the district manager for CB6 in Park Slope, expressed some skepticism about the opposition to the plan. He said that while the community should be involved in any redesign, the schoolyard was functioning primarily as a parking lot when it could be put to better use.
“Fighting to preserve this space as a parking lot is a disservice to the school children who might otherwise be able to use it,” Hammerman said, “and preventing its conversion to a park space denies the entire community access to scarce public open space, a most precious commodity for any community.”
A Google Maps image from November 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic began, shows several vehicles parked on the vacant lot. But Principal D’Angelo insisted the space was normally used for student recreation.
“Typically the schoolyard is full with kids,” D’Angelo said. “We have a lot of sports activities. Open space is a big issue.”
Colton’s motorcade is scheduled for 3:00 pm on Friday, February 5, and will begin on West 4th Street between Avenues S and T.