Garden school lot to become green space


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com |

Photo Courtesy of Councilmember Daniel Dromm
Photo Courtesy of Councilmember Daniel Dromm

Left to right: Garden School Board Members Arthur Gruen and Michael Rakosi, Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson, Garden School Headmaster Dr. Richard Marotta, Councilmember Daniel Dromm and Borough President Helen Marshall.

Jackson Heights recently received the best medicine to cure its congestion – open space.

The city announced its long-awaited purchase of the Garden School’s athletic field on March 21, providing the community – which has one of the worst ratios of persons-to-park-space in the five boroughs – with much needed recreational room.

“This is a great deal for both the residents of Jackson Heights and the Garden School,” said Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson. “All sides worked together to ensure that this land will be preserved as open space that both neighborhood residents and the school can use.”

Combined with Travers Park, located across the street from the Garden School on 78th Street between 34th Avenue and Northern Boulevard, the athletic field will supply Jackson Heights with a sublime duo of adjacent destinations.

“Every New Yorker should have access to adequate parks and recreational opportunities, and Jackson Heights was in dire need of additional park space,” said Councilmember Daniel Dromm, who championed the sale. “The opportunity to preserve this open space and expand Travers Park was simply too great to pass up. The residents of our neighborhood deserve this.”

The lot, which is 25,000-square-feet, was put up for sale over a year ago by the cash-strapped Garden School. Community residents were peeved when the private school rejected an offer from the city last year in favor of holding out for a private developer who could potentially pay more quickly.

The land was ultimately purchased by the city for $6 million – $4 million of which was secured by Dromm, combined with $1 million contributions from both Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Borough President Helen Marshall. Under the terms of the agreement, the Garden School will also receive $800,000 in interest-free bridge loans from the J. M. Kaplan Fund and The Fund for the City of New York until they receive the payment.

“This was a wonderful collaboration between the city, community members and our private school,” said Garden School Headmaster Dr. Richard Marotta. “Everyone wins with this arrangement and it is a perfect example of what can happen when the public and private sectors work together.”

The field will be open to the public on weeknights and weekends, while the school will have exclusive rights to the space from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays. Dromm and community advocates have also received approval from Community Board 3 to permanently close the section of 78th Street slotted between the neighboring fields, creating a public play street for residents.

Park advocates, such as the Jackson Heights Green Alliance, will attempt to secure additional funding to perform renovations on the field. The lot will be opened to the public once the restorations are completed, which will not be for over a year.

“Getting the whole community involved is what made this park expansion a reality. Thousands of Jackson Heights residents banded together to encourage the Garden School to sell this land to the city,” said Will Sweeney of the Jackson Heights Green Alliance. “We are ecstatic to be getting more parkland in our neighborhood. This cherished space will be enjoyed by generations of Jackson Heights residents and families to come.”