$2.5 million renovation begins at Fox Street park

By Maria Clark

After years of disrepair, Fox Street Playground is getting a facelift.

Residents and city officials gathered at the playground, on the corner of 156th Street and Fox Street, on Nov. 19 to break ground for a complete renovation the park.

Scheduled to be completed next year, the $2.5 million project will feature new play equipment, swings, a handball court, basketball court and a dog-run.

The renovation will include new plantings and fences, swooping walkways and a spray shower for kids to run through in summer time. The Parks Department will also repair the adjoining retaining wall that has been crumbling for years, creating a safety hazard.

If will not include the community garden sought by neighborhood activists led by Tanya Fields, who in August had begun planting the grassy area next to the active play area. That portion of the park will become the dog run.

Plans for the renovation began three years ago, when the New York Civic Participation Project, a group that collaborates with local labor unions and community organizations to promote social justice, began efforts to expedite repairs on the playground. They worked with the Bronx Borough President’s office and Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo to raise $1.5 million for the repairs.

Working with CUNY design students and the Civic Participation Project, residents had a hand in creating the park of their dreams.

Despite gray clouds overhead and the threat of rain, those who gathered at the groundbreaking cheered as the fourth grade choir group from St. Athanasius School sang “God Bless America.” Officials from the New York Civic Participation Project and members of local union SEIU Local 32BJ , who also helped spearhead efforts for the renovation, chanted “Si Se Puede”—Yes we can–while Parks officials described plans for the playground.

The playset and basketball hoops have been removed and most of the adjacent grassy lot has been uprooted, to make way for what Parks officials described as a modern, clean and safe playground for the surrounding community.

“Everybody owns a little piece of this land,” said Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. “Take a good look around you. In less than a year you won’t recognize this place.”

“This playground was designed with the needs of the community in mind,” said Sussie Lozada, a project director for the NYCPP. “We all fought together for this project and finally change has come.”

Braulio Calzado, a member of the SEIU Local 32BJ and the superintendent of a building next to the playground, remembers when the park was a danger zone for anyone who entered.

“The lights never worked. It was always dark here and there was always so much crime in this playground,” Calzado said. “This was not a pretty place.”

Tanya Fields, who also lives nearby, was saddened at the rejection of her proposal to create “Libertad Urban Farm” on part of the grassy plot. She stood to the side feeling torn.

On the one hand, she said she was happy that her children were finally going to get a playground; but she was sad that the groundbreaking meant the end for her plans.

“I feel like if they don’t let me do it here, I’ll do it elsewhere,” she said. “Or I’ll just come back anyway after the redesign is done and plant anyway.”

A version of this story appeared in the December 2009/January 2010 issue of The Hunts Point Express.

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