Updated May 1 – The New York City Police Department trailer along the southern perimeter of Washington Square Park had been there since the 1990s engaged in some level of surveillance, not fully functioning. Last year, this blog broke the story that the NYPD would be moving into the new Park administrative/bathroom building, still under construction and not yet opened. (A tipster who had been inside the building noted prison “holding cells.”)
The building, believed to cost over $6.5 million, was constructed, as far as the public knew, to house the park’s district administrative offices, bathrooms for park users, and storage, part of Phase III of the park redesign.
Earlier this year, the Parks Department confirmed that the NYPD would be moving into the building. It was clear with all the cameras, the plan was to amp up the surveillance and surveil park users in real time. During numerous meetings about plans for the building held by the Parks Department for the public, no mention of NYPD within it had been mentioned, this was not shown on the schematic designs, but clearly the building was designed with this in mind.
Shortly after the confirmation, the trailer was gone. An almost worse looking plain (tacky) white storage trailer emblazoned with the words “RENT ME” now appeared along Washington Square South. Huh?
At Community Board 2 Parks Committee meeting earlier this month, Board District Manager Bob Gormley asked Washington Square Park Administrator Sarah Neilson: “The storage trailer that is outside the park, is that a permanent fixture?” Ms. Neilson replied yes, that there is not enough room for storage in the new building. Mr. Gormley asked if there was a way to make it more attractive. Ms. Neilson said they were working on it but could only do so to a degree. (My first inclination would be that this is not at all possible but perhaps they would consider having an art student create a design on it – or something.)
The new building replaced three smaller red brick buildings, part of the 1970 design (pretty much obliterated by the Bloomberg Administration), which contained the bathrooms, administrative offices, and a shed. Bathrooms pre-redesign were in terrible shape. Consensus amidst the community was that the bathrooms should be renovated first. But the Parks Department and redesigner George Vellonakis seemed to do anything they could to alienate those who cared about the park. New bathrooms were placed in Phase III, the very last phase of the redesign project. For years, the bathrooms were close to unusable due to their state and then came 1 1/2 years of temporary outdoor toilets during the long-lasting construction.
When asked whether everything fit in the previous three buildings, Ms. Neilson said “I believe so. They had a driveway and they had more space.” She mentioned that District 2 which encompasses all downtown parks was using the building also. (Not to mention the NYPD.) However, this was known at the time the building was designed.
It is alarming, especially given all the contention over the redesign of the park, that the city Parks Department, having allocated more than $6.5 million for the building and hired a separate firm to design it, did not allot enough room for their own storage. CB2 Parks Chair Rich Caccappolo joked that the space might be taken up by “prison cells.” (Who knows?)
Community Board 2 Chair Tobi Bergman, also present at the meeting, said, “That trailer is just inappropriate. Whether you have the space or not, to have spent God knows how many millions of dollars on making a park beautiful from one side to the next and have something like that in it, another way should be tackled.”
Tobi Bergman: “I can tell you from being involved in parks operations that 92% of all storage – exactly – is unnecessary. It’s not right to spend that much money and have that ugly thing blocking it [the park].”
Mr. Bergman continued, “You have 64 rakes in there, 120 shovels, you have bags of salt that have hardened up. If the problem really is that District 2 is using the park’s storage so you don’t have enough room for your own storage, the Parks Department has to find another place for District 2 storage.”
Neither Sarah Neilson nor Manhattan Parks Chief of Staff Steve Simon commented as to whether they would find another solution.
One person who had a solution is Parks and disability activist Margie Rubin, who, when alerted to the situation, suggested that space from within the Large Dog Run, adjacent to the building and with extra room, could be
allotted used to add on to the Parks building.
Previously at Washington Square Park Blog:
NYPD to surveil Washington Square Park Users in Real Time February 9, 2015
Phase III: Washington Square Park New Bathroom/Administrative Building April 21, 2010
Police Install Cameras in Washington Square Park, New York Times, January 2, 1998
This article is worth reading because if the surveillance cameras are still about this, clearly over 17 years, it has not been successful.