After a four-year delay in which the former Hempstead Town supervisor agreed to and then reneged on a promise to build a children’s playground in south Merrick, construction is underway on the playground after a groundbreaking in August at Wynsum Park that will feature multiple slides for appropriate ages, climbers, swings, spinners and more children’s fun items for age groups from 2-5 and 5-12. The project is expected to be completed by mid-November.
“It’s an exciting time for the children,” remarked Joe Baker, president of the South Merrick Community Civic Association, whose parents’ group committee Lets Play 11566 advocated for the children’s playground beginning in 2014 at the passive pocket park on Wynsum Lane and Illona Lane on the Hewlett peninsula in south Merrick.
Baker noted that sporting venues such as tennis courts and basketball courts will not be part of the playground.
“With the completion of the playground, children – and their parents – will no longer have to think of the new park as simply a “make believe park,” Baker told Your NewsMag recently.
The project was made possible by funding from local residents who recently presented $25,000 in funds to the Town of Hempstead. Baker anticipates up to $40,000 in private collections was possible toward completion of the new playground.
Nassau County was donating $75,000 as part of an Inter Municipal Agreement between the county and the town, and another $200,000 was expected from the state to complete the project, according to an email to Your Newsmag from state Senator John Brooks, an increase from the $100,000 originally approved.
Baker added that a brick wall or walkway with the names of contributors on individual bricks was a distinct possibility within the new playground. Dover Caterers and Coleman Country Day Camp are named as corporate sponsors toward building the new playground.
LONG TIME COMING
Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen and Nassay County Legislator Steve Rhoads flank town Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney and South Merrick Communities Civic Association officers to open construction of the playground
“Watching the bulldozer begin to tear up the sod and move dirt around is the culmination of four years work,” said Shawn Fields, co-chairman along with Jay Rogoff of the Let’s Play 11566 Committee. He said the group first approached the town’s parks department on September 1, 2014, and “there have been three parks commissioners since.”
“I’m ecstatic about the playground finally being built,” added Rogoff. “We refused to give up on the new playground after we were first told yes by the town supervisor and then told no,” he continued. He thanked town Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney and new town Supervisor Laura Gillen for their unwavering support in getting the playground built.
Tensions between then-Supervisor Anthony Santino and Council woman King Sweeney lead to Santino tabling King Sweeney’s requests to build the playground during at least two town board meetings. Baker told Your NewsMag that during 2017 elections Laura Gillen, then-candidate for supervisor, told him that if elected she promised to get the playground built.
While Santino originally agreed to the playground, based on positive canvasing by Let’s Play 11566 of the surrounding community, and wrote to county Legislator Steve Rhoads to obtain inter-municipal funds to fund the construction, he eventually reversed his decision, saying more in the community had come forward against the playground.
Fields said that after elections both Councilwoman King Sweeney and new Supervisor Gillen met with an opposition group head on to discuss reasons for their opposition. With Lets Play 11566 members also at the meeting, Fields said the opposition group voiced concern to the public officials about poor vegetation at the entranceways to the park on Wynsum and Illona that could act as camouflage , to poor fencing and to speeding cars along Illona Lane.
New floral vegetation now adorns the entranceways to the park, a new fence has been installed around the entire perimeter and stop signs have been placed at the corners of Illona Lane and Vine Drive, along with a new crosswalk. Rogoff says any opposition to the playground plan has become minimal.
When Your NewsMag visited the playground construction site a man walking a dog, who requested anonymity, said he would have liked to have seen a basketball court installed. But he added that he wasn’t opposed to what was being constructed. A grandmother could be seen walking her grandchild in a tram along the sidewalk within the park between the Wynsum Lane and Illona Lane entranceways, and then back again.
“I’m thrilled to join with the South Merrick Civic Association and neighborhood families to break ground on what will be a beautiful new community playground,” said Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney. “After several years of hard-fought advocacy by many young families in Merrick, it’s great to see that our children will have a new playground to enjoy right around the corner.”
Added Supervisor Gillen: “This project is a great example of government coming together for the betterment of our entire community. I am pleased to partner with the entire town board to make this dream a reality for not only today’s children, but also their children and all future generations.”
Both Fields and Rogoff expressed optimism that the new playground will become a place for families with children to gather in a safe low-key environment to socialize.