falling down

NYCHA Playgrounds Languish in Disrepair While Funds Go Unspent

Maria Brown and her grandson walk past the spot where NYCHA is supposed to build new playground at the Marlboro Houses after taking down the old one last year.
Maria Brown and her grandson walk past the spot where NYCHA is supposed to build new playground at the Marlboro Houses after taking down the old one last year. Photo: Reuven Blau/THE CITY

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When a city construction crew dug up a decrepit playground at a Brooklyn public housing complex last year, residents grew excited in hopes their children would finally get new equipment to enjoy.

But the site at the Marlboro Houses, in Gravesend, has stuck out as a barren concrete circle ever since. The playground is now on a list of 22 citywide slated for an overhaul by the New York City Housing Authority.

When that might happen is anyone’s guess. NYCHA has disclosed no completion target date nor estimated price tag for any of the projects — even in one case where the City Council allocated funding five years ago.

“All they did was dig the ground up,” said Maria Brown as she walked with her grandson past the empty Marlboro Houses playground.

“We need an adequate place where kids can play and feel safe,” she added. “It’s not fair to the kids.”

Playing Games

The Housing Authority says it costs an estimated $500,000 on average to replace a playground, a figure that varies depending on size and equipment.

Using that figure, it would cost roughly $11 million to redo all the spots on its list — 10 of which, including the play area at Marlboro, already have been demolished or fenced off.

Of the decrepit playgrounds slated for reconstruction, 13 are in Brooklyn, six in The Bronx and three in Manhattan. Four were put on the replacement list in 2014, records show.

NYCHA has been moving to repair some of its 710 playgrounds, after THE CITY revealed in June that the authority failed to follow through on a pledge to conduct regular inspections in response to a damning report by City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Stringer’s audit found 70% of NYCHA playgrounds in “unsatisfactory” condition, with some posing glaring safety hazards such as jagged metal.

An aging playground at O’Dwyer Gardens in Coney Island was slated to be redone after Hurricane Sandy.
An aging playground at O’Dwyer Gardens in Coney Island was slated to be redone after Hurricane Sandy. Photo: Reuven Blau/THE CITY

NYCHA spokesperson Barbara Brancaccio said the agency is working to fix playgrounds that have been ignored for years.

“After decades of disinvestment, NYCHA developments have significant capital needs and every day we are working diligently to make repairs and improve the quality of life for our residents,” she said.

NYCHA has managed construction of 55 new playgrounds, totaling nearly $42 million, since 2018, she added.

Brancaccio said the new playground at Gravesend is in the planning stages and work won’t start until at least next October. In Coney Island, designs for basketball court and playground renovations are still being worked out, she said.

Kids ‘Make Do’

In some locations, playground equipment dates back half a century to when the public housing complex was first built.

That’s the case at NYCHA’s 573-apartment O’Dwyer Gardens complex, next to the Coney Island Boardwalk and across the street from three luxury residential towers being built by developer John Catsimatidis.

Three of the six play areas at the complex feature vintage steel equipment of a kind scrapped years ago by the city Parks Department.

The structures are coated with layer upon layer of chipped paint.

“All they do is just paint over it and that’s it,” said Ariana Hicks, 30, who lives in O’Dwyer Gardens. “We are the lost children. Nothing gets fixed.”

The playgrounds are also pockmarked with crumbling concrete floors, fading rubber mats and busted drinking fountains.

One basketball court is partially blocked by a construction trailer that was installed after Superstorm Sandy seven years ago, and another has a makeshift backboard. NBA star Stephon Marbury used to play on the courts, which were featured in the movie “He Got Game.”

A piece of playground equipment at O’Dwyer Gardens in Coney Island on Nov. 25, 2019.
A piece of playground equipment at O’Dwyer Gardens in Coney Island on Nov. 25, 2019. Photo: Reuven Blau/THE CITY

Now, kids in the neighborhood “make do” with what’s left, said Hicks.

“They come because they have to practice for the school teams they are on,” she added. “There’s no other options.”

In the summer, some kids attach ropes to the rusty equipment to create their own makeshift swings, according to residents.

Children also jump on discarded mattresses, and until recently treated a protective sidewalk shed around the complex as jungle gym equipment, tenants said. The scaffolding, which had been up for years, was removed this summer.

City Councilman Mark Treyger (D-Brooklyn), who represents the area, allocated $100,000 to improve the playgrounds in the 2014 fiscal year. The money has yet to be spent.

“I’m livid. There’s no excuse for this,” Treyger told THE CITY.

He’s also questioning why $8.5 million in federal funds to repair damaged lobbies at the complex after Sandy has suddenly been withdrawn by NYCHA. Housing Authority officials say the cost of the project has exceeded earlier projections and that more money is needed to finally begin the repairs.

‘It’s Not Healthy’

NYCHA playground inspections are not required by law, but an internal review system has been in place — and apparently largely ignored — for years.

Agency rules require a housing development’s groundskeeping staff to inspect every playground in their purview monthly. Staffers have to fill out 100-category checklists that are supposed to be submitted into NYCHA’s Maximo maintenance-tracking computer system.

The reports have generated several hundred work orders that are tackled by maintenance staff, according to Brancaccio.

In July, an inspector at the O’Dwyer Gardens noted “cracks throughout development” and pointed out certain spots were “fenced off by contractors.”

Residents say that’s been the case for years.

“When you walk you kick up gravel,” said resident Aheba Ajavon. “There’s nothing here for kids. It’s not healthy. They have to do something.”

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