Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase III Opens! (Mostly)

After 21 months or so, Washington Square Park’s Phase III construction at last opened this week! The fences came down on Tuesday (4/7). Although the “Park House Comfort Station” building itself – which houses the park bathrooms, Parks Department’s district offices, and some form of the NYPD – is not yet open, the “Mounds” are available for play and the pathways for walking. The building is expected to open later this week or next. This is the sixth year of construction for Washington Square Park.

For large periods during the redesign work, the “Mounds” looked nothing like the former Mounds [link to be added], they were short and they had “cable-net play” equipment on all three of the hills but now there is actually a Mound or two that look like the original Mounds, allowing for “spontaneous play” [link coming] with no cable-net play above them.

The Park House Comfort Station building is still set to don a glass canopy over it (not sure the glass part was necessary but alas…). There are men’s rooms, women’s rooms, and a family bathroom within it, ADA (Americans with Disability Act) compliant.

At Community Board 2’s Parks Committee meeting last week, Washington Square Park Administrator Sarah Neilson gave the update on Phase III and other matters (more on those “other matters” to come). Neilson said that as far as the NYPD presence in the building, discussions are still ongoing. She said there are “conversations back and forth” and they are “going through a lot of iterations right now.” When I asked if the NYPD presence would include reviewing footage of the cameras peppered throughout the park in real time (something that seems a little creepy), Neilson did not have an answer. She said they are talking with the police about an “MOU” (Memorandum of Understanding). When asked (in a joking manner) by Parks Committee Chair Rich Caccappolo about the possibility of holding cells in the building, Neilson responded that “the jail cells are not there.”

The Mounds were not in the original designs for Washington Square Park as conceived by the Bloomberg Administration Parks Department in a contentious battle with the community. Community members and former Council Member Alan Gerson fought to keep the Mounds in the designs. That is why when you look at them, they are the one very unique thing within the park – that is purely because they came from the 1970 design. Although park redesigner George Vellonakis changed their usage by adding the “cable-net play” and artificial turf on top of them, they retain some of their spirit as you can tell by the children of various ages playing on them. (The artificial turf was another controversial aspect. [link coming])

At the April 2nd meeting, I asked Neilson if the play area including the Mounds would be tested in some form before the opening. She said she was “not aware of any test,” commenting that “It is all standard Parks equipment.” Neilson may have been working in the Capital Projects Division at the time children were burned at the Dome Playground at Union Square Park. It was deemed “too hot” after the structure burned some children and there were issues elsewhere at other parks with “safety surface” getting too hot and burning children’s hands and feet.

The one issue that seemed questionable to me at the Mounds is that a lot of little children (2, 3 years old) were using them and running up and down (so sweet) and they seem to run under where the older children are using the “cable-net play.” Something to watch out for, particularly parents. I believe the original Mounds were set up for teenagers and I think it’s nice how all ages can utilize the new Mounds – but there does seem to be the need for watchful eyes.

Washington Square Park’s three phases of construction began in late December of 2007. Along with the building opening, there is one more piece – the neglected, broken down sidewalks that line the park. Work will begin on the sidewalks this coming summer.

Photos: Cathryn

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