Village park’s redesign unites North Shore community
By Erin Dueñas
It’s been more than two years that a major renovation for Rocketship Park in Port Jefferson Village has been in the works, and according to former village trustee Adrienne Kessel, chair of the committee dedicated to the redesign, it all started with a light.
The overhaul of the park, formally known as the Clifton H. Lee Memorial Park, began after vandals destroyed some of its equipment, prompting the village to look into repairs in addition to added security features, according to Kessel.
“It began with a conversation about adding better lighting but that wasn’t the answer,” she said. “When we went to fix the damaged pieces, we weren’t able to find them. The equipment was obsolete.”
As chair of the Treasure Your Parks committee, which operates under the Port Jefferson Harbor Education and Arts Conservancy, Kessel looked into replacing the playground. During her research she realized that what was already in the park made it nearly impossible for anyone with a disability to enjoy it.
“You can’t even push a stroller through,” Kessel said of the sand that covers the park’s surface. “I thought about a child in a wheelchair or even a parent or guardian in a wheelchair or with a cane and how the park was not accessible to them. That had to change.” The goal for the new park is for it to be accessible to everyone, disabled or not. “Every child should have the chance to play. I couldn’t imagine a park a child couldn’t utilize,” she said.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, both newly constructed and altered facilities that accommodate the public — including recreational facilities such as playgrounds — must be readily accessible by people with disabilities. Kessel said the new park will exceed the ADA guidelines with features such as a poured ground surface that will provide easier mobility, a swing that can accommodate a wheelchair and a bridge feature that even those with limited mobility can use.
“We want everyone to have full freedom of the entire park,” Kessel said.
In addition to play features including a tree-shaped climbing piece called Robins Tree House and a play pirate ship, the park will also include sitting walls, natural looking walkways and shade trees.
The Consalvo family of Port Jefferson, who lost their daughter and sister Danielle to a drunk driver 19 years ago, donated funds to create an “enchanted” entry to the park in her memory. “When we heard about the renovation of the park, we knew this would be the perfect place to sprinkle some of her fairy dust,” said her sister Monica Consalvo.
“This timeless children’s park, which was visited by Danielle herself, brings smiles and laughter to all that visit. What was especially captivating to us was how this park would become one to include all children, not just those that easily walked onto the swing or climbed up the ladder of the slide, but to those who were challenged and needed a helpful hand. How inspiring that our small village would create a park that welcomed all and embraced the opportunity for a special needs child to swing alongside their peers,” she added.
Another planned feature also caught the attention of the Consalvo family. A three-sided, free-standing wall will be included in the park, displaying tiles that can be superimposed with artwork or commemorative messages created by members of the community.
According to Monica, Danielle not only enjoyed the park as a child but was an avid artist who was always drawing or sculpting with clay. “The connection was there,” she said.
Students from Port Jefferson Middle School, where Monica teaches special education, raised funds to purchase two mosaic tiles that would appear on the wall. She then organized a contest open to all the middle schoolers calling for original artwork that would appear on the tiles.
“We left it open as to what should be represented on the tiles. We told them what it would be used for, but they were free to put their creativity on it,” Monica said. The student body then voted on artwork entries, choosing two winning tiles last year created by now eighth-grader Erica Graci and now seventh-grader Lucas Welinder.
“What a legacy for a middle school student to have their design in the heart of our village to one day be shown to their children,” said Monica.
“As educators, we often tell our students to celebrate our differences and embrace our uniqueness, but how often do we get the opportunity to create a moment that brings this message to life?” she asked.
Danielle’s mother, Barbara Consalvo, noted that Lucas’ design struck a familiar chord with the family. “It was something very similar to what Danielle would have done. It was such a coincidence,” she said. Barbara said that her family was happy to contribute to a park her daughter used to go to. “When the opportunity presented itself, we wanted to be a part of it,” she said.
Estimates for the renovation are projected at $550,000. According to Kessel, about half of that amount has been secured, but fundraising efforts continue.
A GoFundMe site has been created and a Party for the Park Under the Harvest Moon fundraiser hosted by Ruvo, 105 Wynn Lane, and Old Fields Restaurant, 318 Wynn Lane, Port Jefferson, is scheduled for Oct. 1 from 7 to 10 p.m. The event will take place outside between the two restaurants. Rain date is Oct. 8. Tickets are $50 in advance by visiting www.rebuildrocketship.org or $60 at the door.