BY TRONE DOWD
Thanks to Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) and Borough President Melinda Katz, local kids, active adults and students of the Catherine and Count Basie Middle School in Rochdale will be able to enjoy a brand new park come next year.
As a part of a $1.375 million allocation made by Wills and $1.12 million allocation from Katz, the playground that currently sits behind MS 72 will be completely redesigned from the ground up. The $2.5 million project broke ground Tuesday morning at the school. Expected to be completed by next April, the redesign boasts a number of new additions to the functional but ailing park.
Among these additions are brand new full sized interchangeable volleyball and basketball courts, an outdoor classroom complete with an amphitheater and lumber benches, a durable synthetic turf field and a three-lane track.
Although Katz and Wills were behind the funding of the project, the two were unable to make it out to the ground breaking ceremony due to previous engagements and illness respectively. In Wills place however, was both his Education Liaison Kenlyn Parsons and Director of Constituent Affairs Liaison Jahi Rose.
“It has been brought to our attention the lack of youth services in our community. Council member Wills has advocated tirelessly for the project for the last two years,” Parsons said. “It is always a pleasure to come out and see the fruits of our labor.”
The $2.5 million project was sparked by a letter Wills sent to the Department of Education in 2011 detailing his dismay with the current park. A representative from Wills’ office told the Queens Tribune that the park had seen a great deal of deterioration over the years including compromised fencing, excessive graffiti, tall weeds, garbage and litter and illicit activity. Katz joined Wills on trying to get the park repaired.
“Our school extends its thanks to Councilman Wills and Borough President Melinda Katz for their funding and support in this long-awaited opportunity for the young people of South Jamaica,” MS 72 Principal Omotayo Cineus said. “This groundbreaking ceremony reflects the hard work of a great team of visionaries […] We look forward to the future use of this new playground, which will afford the young people of Catherine and Count Basie Middle School social, emotional, athletic and academic experiences and memories.”
To commemorate the official breaking of the ground, many of the Basie’s extra curricular programs and clubs performed for the electeds, faculty and community members showcasing what they have learned through the school year. School cheerleaders, the dance team and the school gospel choir all had a chance to show out. In addition to representatives from Wills’ office, State Senate hopeful Adrienne Adams, representatives from Assemblywoman Vivian Cook (D-Jamaica), and the Park Department were all in attendance.
In a statement released hours after the ceremony, Wills express his excitement for the new playground.
“A playground is a vital element of a child’s education. If it’s neglected, not only will it decay, but our young men and women’s minds and bodies will do the same. The playground at Catherine and Count Basie had been lacking in upkeep for more than a decade, and its dilapidated condition came to attract attention from negative influences,” Wills said. “I’m pleased to say that the void here will soon be filled by a first-rate recreational environment. I’m grateful for my role in helping to break ground on this project, and I want to thank Queens Borough President Melinda Katz for her contribution towards its fulfillment and the School Construction Authority for its partnership with the MS 72 community and residents of Rochdale Village on its design.”
Reach Trone Dowd at (718) 357-7400 x123, firstname.lastname@example.org or @theloniusly