Volume 81, Number 8 | July 21- 27, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Photos by Aline Reynolds

Chad Marlow calls Tompkins Square’s playground “depressing.”

Rats run rampant in Tompkins, new park group says

By Aline Reynolds

Last year, one year after it was fully renovated, Tompkins Square Park playground was named the city’s best playground by New York magazine.

However, poor maintenance of the playground, at Ninth St. and Avenue A, in recent months has caused it to become a safety hazard for kids, according to a group of neighborhood parents who have banded together to lobby for the play space’s proper upkeep.

“It’s the starkest example of what happens when you invest $1.5 million and stop caring,” said Chad Marlow, founder of the Tompkins Square Park & Playgrounds Parents’ Association.

“The fact that, in less than 12 months, the playground has gone from being a crown jewel of the New York playground system to a state of such disrepair is depressing,” said Marlow, whose 2-year-old daughter plays in the playground daily.

The new assocation already has 175 members since forming July 1.

The group’s creation is necessary to get results, particularly since calls to the city’s 311 phone hotline about playground-related issues have proved unsuccessful, Marlow said.

“We have one goal: to make this as good as possible for our kids. That’s it,” Marlow said. “We need that collective voice in order to get things done.”

Parents’ primary complaint is the park’s rat infestation, which they say has gotten out of control. The rodents hide in underground burrows around the playground’s perimeter during the day, and start scurrying about the playground at dusk and throughout the evening.

“They’re brazen. I see two or three at a time,” said Kathleen Reynolds, whose 8-year-old daughter uses the playground four or five times a week. “It’s unacceptable,” Reynolds said. “They know how to control it, so let’s just do it.”

“I’ve seen rats in the sandbox at night. I’d never let my kid go in that sandbox because of that,” said Heather Mihalic, who takes her young children to Tompkins Square Park nearly every day.

Parents also charge that the sandbox isn’t properly maintained. Children often get the sand onto the adjacent concrete, where it mixes with the sprinkler water to form dirty pools the youths play in, they said.

Kathleen Reynolds, with her daughter, Sabena Warren, 8, says the park’s rodents are “brazen.”

“They just need to monitor it and add fresh sand,” said Betsy B., who takes her two children to the park on weekends. “I’m sure there are rats running around, which doesn’t make me feel so good about my children being in there.”

Parents also fear their children jumping into the sandbox or sprinkler area and injuring themselves.

“If they slip onto the concrete surface below, that’s going to hurt them,” said Betsy B.

Just last week, Marlow said, he saw a child jump off the sandbox’s elevated edge and slam her foot on the concrete.

Keeping the park properly maintenaned is also smart for the city financially, Marlow stated.

“If a kid smacks their head on that sandbox — particularly when it comes out of the wood that the city’s been notified of the risk — it’s a million-dollar lawsuit,” he said.

With respect to safety, East Village parent Vanessa Greca said she’d like to see tighter restrictions in the toddler play area — located to the left of the sandbox — especially since her 2-year-old daughter was hit by a scooter there.

“I wish there was a limitation, so the older kids wouldn’t go there,” she said.

Finally, the play equipment is often neglected, parents say. Most recently, it took three to four weeks to get a rope swing connector fixed, Marlow and other parents noted. In the meantime, they said, children were exposed to sharp edges that protruded from the broken equipment piece.

Marlow said he plans to garner support from elected officials and reach out to the city once the association reaches 200 members. He’s reluctant, however, to make this “a political issue.”

“We don’t want press conferences,” he said. “We don’t want letters. We don’t want promises. We want results.

“Now that parents are organized, we’re going to do everything we can to get those results.”

Phil Abramson, a Parks Department spokesperson, said Parks is willing to listen to the association’s concerns.

“The playground seems to be very much enjoyed by the community, but if there are any further suggestions to improve it, we’d be glad to sit down and look at those,” he said. “I’d encourage them to reach out to us as soon as possible, so we can facilitate a conversation.”

Abramson didn’t comment by press time on how frequently the playground is monitored.

Meanwhile, Tompkins Square Park’s other playground, at Seventh St. and Avenue B., requires a significant overhaul, Abramson acknowledged.

“Much of the equipment is in working order,” he said. “However, we recognize that it requires an upgrade, and are working with the area’s elected officials and the community in order to secure capital funds for this purpose.”

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