Renovating Dome Playground, AKA 38th Street: Stage 1

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Dome Playground stage

At long last the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation has offered the public a preview of what it proposes to do to Dome Playground, aka “38th Street.” The public discussion, which was initiated by Councilmember Brad Lander (District 39) and Brooklyn Parks Chief of Staff Marty Maher more than two years ago at a February 2011 “Visioning” session to hear what Dome users, Kensington locals, and Community Board 12 members had to say about renovating it, appears, in retrospect, to have been the first figure in a stately minuet, a slow formal dance whose closing curtsey certainly won’t happen until 2014 when construction begins.

In the two years since, no information has been forthcoming as to when the Parks’ plans might appear. Then last summer, Councilmember Lander cleared a major hurtle. He put together $2.8 million, enough money to proceed on his 2-year-old offer to renovate Dome Playground, located at Dahill Road, between 37th and 38th Streets. The money came from his discretionary funds, with additional monies from Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. He did it in record time, Maher said.

Morton Pupko, CB 12 Parks

At table: Morton Pupko, CB 12 Parks Committee chair; Brooklyn Parks Chief of Staff Marty Maher, standing; David Martin, Team Leader, Brooklyn Capital Projects, purple shirt; Terry Naranjo, Sr Landscape architect.

Again, silence…until a month ago when Councilman Brad Lander, along with Morton Pupko, the chair of Community Board 12’s Parks Committee, announced a meeting for Thursday, April 25 at PS 230 to review the Stage I renovation for Dome proposed by Brooklyn Parks Capital Design Team and to share ideas for Stage 2. Councilmember Lander moderated.

Parents at the Dome Playground meeting

About 35 parents, those of the children from Dome’s tot and kids’ play area at its northeast corner, showed up to find out what Parks Design Team had in mind. Unlike the earlier Visioning session, none of the denizens of the hand- and basketball courts or fitness bars came. Several of them had pointedly said that the kids’ play and the lawn areas had been renovated once before in 2001, but the courts never. They expected nothing different this time around, although by all accounts the courts’ cement flooring is in very bad shape.

Terry Naranjo, senior landscape planner for Parks’ Brooklyn Capital Projects, used a “bubble diagram” to walk the audience through the new design. A rough map to the proposed changes, it showed their relative size, shape, and positioning. The finished design will not be publicly exhibited for another month.

New Design Elements

1. The kids’ play area, which abuts the apartment buildings on 15th Avenue, would double in size by extending a short, fat, leg outward into what is now the lawn area. Its new shape would be an L — the long side in the same spot as it is now.

Equipment at Vanderbilt Plyaground

2. The play area will get the newest in play equipment, including flexible climbers, net climbers, ramp and platform systems, i.e., jungle gyms; swings, slides, and “water play” (aka sprinklers) — a mix geared to keeping toddlers, kids, and tweens happy. Vanderbilt Street Playground on Prospect Park Southwest (pictured above) has samples of some of these. Several mothers objected to the sprinklers; they didn’t want their kids to get wet.

3. The lawn will be graded to eliminate the huge puddle that reappears at the bottom of the six semicircular stairs after every rainstorm. Those steps lead up to a stage crowned by a lintel and post centerpiece and topped by a cast-iron pediment. They added a touch of ’40s Hollywood glamour to the stage — a Busby Berkeley staircase redone in cement. Both the stage and the stairs will be eliminated by the grading.

4. Parks will add trees to buffer the sound and sight on the 37th Street side, where apartment buildings abut the playground. When fully grown these trees will reduce noise and offer neighbors’ more privacy.

5. Parks plans to add a multi-use area in the 37th/Dahill road corner (abutting the fenced-in courts) instead of the current lawn area and the stage. Some complained it was too close to the apartments on 37th Street; others suggested it might not be big enough to throw footballs around or stage a theatrical or music performance.

6. The boulders will be removed from the lawn.

7. Parks will probably inscribe phrases in multiple languages in the walkway around the lawn to honor the Bangladesh Mother Language Day.

Stage 2 And Its Costs

At the meeting’s close, there was a brief discussion about proposals for a Stage 2 renovation, which currently has no funding. Some ideas: install a comfort station, redo the basket- and handball courts’ flooring to fix the cracked cement, rejuvenate the lawn and sitting area with new landscaping.

These are competing, expensive projects. The comfort station alone costs well over a million dollars. It could take years to put together the money necessary to complete all three. Most likely it will take another two years just to fund Stage 2, and many more before the various park constituencies see the changes at Dome they desire.

The Next Steps

The public will get its first view of Parks’ final designs for the Stage I Dome Playground renovation at CB12’s regular meeting, Tuesday, June 25. The CB12 Parks committee will present it for review and public comment, and then vote on its approval. Public comment might add some tweaks to the final design but major changes are unlikely. Once approved, the plans are forwarded to the NYC Public Design Committee for final review, probably in July. Then, with its approval the contracts are let out to bid. Actual construction would not begin before 2014.

Those interested in getting the courts fixed (or other tweaks to the final design) would do well to appear at the June 25 CB12 meeting, if only to stand up and ask the Board’s Parks Committee what its plans and schedule are to fix them. We are among the dancers executing these stately figures. To benefit from it, we must dance each figure until this minuet completes its many formal rounds.

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