Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Parks Department is a Disgrace to City by Denis Hamill - NY Daily News

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The Parks Department should be ashamed.

If you want to see the arthritic hand of your government at work in the city's parks, become a Little League dad like me.

In the past two years, I have been on almost every sandlot in eastern Queens, as my kid has played for a Little League team and a CYO baseball team, in spring, summer, and fall seasons. We've played in Cunningham Park, Alley Pond Park, Harvey Park, McNeil Park, Golden Fields, Crocheron Park, College Point Fields, Flushing Park, Peck Park and more.

And I am very sad to report here that almost every single field is a disaster.

Every coach and parent I've talked to who uses these public fields - where our children are supposed to learn, love and excel in the great American pastime of baseball - says the same thing: The Parks Department is a DISGRACE!

At 9 a.m., Saturday, May 30, we arrived on Kissena Corridor Field No. 2. The infield had puddles deep enough to drown in. The coaches considered carving out a field in the grass, but it was knee-high on a 9-year-old, grass so tall that a kid couldn't run and the ball would literally get lost. Luckily, a reconnaissance team found a playable field several blocks away.

Throughout this rainy spring, not once did I see a Parks Department crew show up before one of our games with a rake or shovel to help fill in the puddles, mow the grass or make the neglected sandlots playable.

Many Little League games are played during the week, starting at 6 p.m. And in its infinite wisdom, Parks closes the public bathrooms in Alley Pond and Crocheron and other parks at 5:30, just in time for scores of kids - who must hydrate while playing sports - and all their families - who sip soft drinks and coffee - to arrive for a game.

It gets worse.

On Saturday, June 6, we had a 9 a.m. game in Harvey Park. It rained the night before, so the coaches arrived at 7 a.m. to till the rice paddy that was Field 19 for two full hours with rakes and shovels, until the infield was playable. When I got there at 8:30, someone from Parks had obviously been around to unlock the gates of the nearby playground.

But that Parks worker did not bother to walk another 15 lousy feet to unlock the public bathroom. So, here were 26 kids, and dozens of parents on one field, and the same setup on a second ballfield, a hockey rink filled with skaters, and a playground climbing with tykes, assorted joggers, dog-walkers, strollers, and teens playing basketball on a lovely Saturday morning in Harvey Park.

With no bathrooms.

By the time we left at 11:15 a.m., the bathrooms were still locked.

And this was no aberration.

We often practice and play at MacNeil Park, a glimmering 29-acre emerald with breathtaking views of the East River and Long Island Sound, but where the bathrooms are always locked, forcing boys and men to go in the woods. Women and girls have to drive off in search of gas stations and fast food joints to relieve themselves. According to several College Point residents, the MacNeil bathroom has been locked all spring. "The park house building in the playground reeks of urine because people pee on it instead of in it," said one mother, Chris O'Hagan, a retired cop.

C'mon, Parks, not even a Porta Potti?

The word "city" is derived from the Latin word for civilization, and yet our city government treats its citizens in such a disrespectful and uncivilized way as to boggle the mind and rupture the bladder.

Could the city's new revenue-raising scheme be public urination fines?

Talk about voters being PO'd in an election year.

"We have a dedicated baseball field crew," says Jane Adams, a pleasant spokeswoman for the Parks Department. "And we would like to address all the issues you're raising, so it would be helpful if you could e-mail us a list of the complaints so we can address them."

She did acknowledge that it is the job of the Parks Department, not the coaches or parents of Little Leaguers, to maintain the park fields. And although she did not give standard Parks Department restroom hours, she did seem very concerned about Little Leaguers and their families not having available rest room facilities.

But rather than send Parks a list of my complaints like an interoffice memo, (which I'd already spelled out verbally) I thought I'd share them instead with the people for whom the Parks Department works - the citizens.

I will report on the Parks response, if any, in future columns.

Because it gets worse.

On that same Saturday, June 6, my kid had a second game at 1 p.m. in Cunningham Park. Field No. 5 had so many deep infield puddles that the team could have gone fly fishing instead of shagging fly balls.

This time, 11 taxpaying fathers who work all week, and who also pay soaring sales and real estate taxes to this city, had to lug heavy buckets of dirt, dig irrigation trenches, rake, shovel and till the field with their own garden tools to make it playable for the children of Queens. As the men toiled, several Parks trucks drove past. Did a single worker stop to help? Or loan a broom, rake, shovel, wheelbarrow, or, God help us all, a helping hand?


The game was played. But Mike Bloomberg sure didn't score any runs.

"Last year, I worked alone on a field in College Point Fields off Ulmer St. for five straight hours to get it in shape to play," said one Little League coach, a retired Sanitation man. "Eight, count 'em, eight, parkies stood watching me. Not one of them lent a hand. They did lend me a rake. That was it."

It gets worserer.

The next morning, Sunday, June 7, at 8 a.m., we had another game, this one in Flushing Park on 149th St. and 26th Ave. Same thing: Two teams, mobs of parents, plus an adult softball game being played, and kids romping in Leonardo Ingravallo Playground - where the garbage cans were overflowing and attracting swarms of flies - and the bathrooms were padlocked. Clearly, a Parks worker had to have come by to unlock the playground, but again chose not to unlock the bathroom.


Plus, Field 17, where we were scheduled to play, was completely underwater, so the Little Leaguers had to settle for Field 15, which had a huge, bug-buzzing puddle beside home plate, so deep and filled with beer cans and garbage that my kid's coach called it a "malaria pit" - and umpire ground ruled "a dead ball zone."

After the game, as I left the park a little before 11 a.m., I finally found a parkie unlocking the bathroom. I asked him what time they usually open. "No fixed time," he said. "Sometimes nine, sometimes 10, sometimes 11. We have a lot of places to go, so whenever we get here."

Like I said, a DISGRACE!