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Playground backlash - P.S. 208 project angers some on East 48th St.

Residents living near Public School 208 are hopping mad over a new playground being built in the school’s yard.

Contending that they had not been included in planning for the project, which is now underway, half a dozen of those who live on East 48th Street, between Avenue D and Clarendon Road, attended the September meeting of Community Board 17 to make their concerns known. P.S. 208 is located at 4801 Avenue D.

“There’s a lot of outrage from neighbors and concern for the children,” Janell Smith, the president of the East 48th Street Block Association, told members of CB 17 gathered at the First United Church of Jesus Christ, 590 Utica Avenue.

“The homeowners found out the project was being built by going over and asking the construction crew what was going on,” Smith told this paper in a subsequent interview.

Smith added that she had contacted the school principal, the city’s Department of Parks & Recreation and the city’s Department of Education (DOE), and had been told, “We should have been notified but that it was up to the local school to notify the community. After we complained, they are now having a meeting, but we are being told it’s a guaranteed project.”

Among the concerns of those who live on the block is that having a playground at the school “will affect property values,” said Smith. Residents are also worried about “The security and safety of the neighborhood and the block. We don’t want teenagers and other people hanging out there.”

That’s a problem, Smith noted, in two nearby parks, one just two blocks away and another five blocks away. “People try to use them after hours and there’s been violence,” Smith said. “When young people congregate, there’s a chance of an altercation. Two older people live adjacent to the park, so there’s concern for their quality of life.”

The proximity of the two existing parks has residents of East 48th Street wondering why the schoolyard at P.S. 208 was selected for conversion to a playground, Smith added. “We have two parks already and now we’ll have a third park,” she pointed out.

The residents also believe that money that should be spent to relieve overcrowding at the school is being wasted on the playground, Smith said.

“The school has portable classrooms,” she stressed. “The students are being taught in trailers. Heating and noise are issues. The money could be used to create an annex. The homeowners feel the money is being misused to build a playground. It’s a really good school, with an A rating, so parents want their kids to go there, but it doesn’t seem like the DOE is addressing the situation.”

The DOE is building the playground to help increase physical activity among students, said a spokesperson for the agency.

“Providing places for students to exercise is a priority in our capital plan,” said Margie Feinberg, a DOE spokesperson, when asked to respond to concerns that had been expressed by the residents.

“We are spending $178.7 million as part of our current capital plan to upgrade gyms, swimming pools, and playgrounds, and we are working with PlaNYC and the Parks Department to open up school yards to communities after school and on weekends,” Feinberg went on.

“The Bloomberg administration is putting $111 million into the schoolyards to playgrounds plan,” she added, “and many of the schoolyards that are converted are considerably improved. It is the goal of PlaNYC to have every New Yorker live within a 10-minute walk of a park or playground.”

Overall, around the city, 290 schoolyards will be transformed into community playgrounds and parks by 2010, as part of the schoolyards to playgrounds initiative, which is a joint effort of the city administration and the Trust for Public Land (TPL).

The goal is to ensure, “That all New Yorkers live within a 10-minute walk of a park or playground,” said Bloomberg when the initiative was unveiled.

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