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Playground

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A  Nesconset school that provides  educational opportunities for deaf children is pleading for the public’s help in funding a new playground for its students.

The yard outside Cleary School for the Deaf in Nesconset lies barren, as old split railroad ties square off desolate sections of rock devoid of any slides or swings. Jacqueline Simms, the school’s executive director, said the school was forced to remove its 30-year-old wooden playgrounds in May after an engineer determined they were “inappropriate” and did not meet New York State Department of Education’s safety requirements.

Since then, parents of its deaf students have launched a GoFundMe campaign seeking to raise $100,000 toward a playground.

These are school-aged children with disabilities who don’t have a playground.”

— Nicole Abbene

“These are school-aged children with disabilities who don’t have a playground,” Nicole Abbene, of Smithtown, said. “They already feel different in regard to their disability, so for them to have a playground would allow them to have the same opportunity as every other child.”

Abbene said her son, Liam, has attended Cleary since he was 3 months old in their Parent Infant Program, designed for children with profound hearing loss from birth through age 3, with their families. Now, at age 4, he’s in a full-day preschool program for children ages 3 to 7 that has approximately 50 enrolled students from 36 school districts across Suffolk County.

“We have a growing enrollment — a huge growing enrollment — that we are meeting with our [state] legislators to see if we can do something about,” Simms said.

The executive director said the state’s funding for the school has not increased proportionally to the influx of students, leaving it tight on funds for capital improvements and the latest technology needed to assist its hearing-impaired children. Simms said she has applied to several grant programs but has yet to be awarded any money.

I took them outside, and we started to play hide-and-seek. There was no place to hide.”

— Katie Kerzner

“We’ve been trying to do everything to accommodate our population and help with the struggle of not having a playground,” she said.

The school’s staff has set up a small portable jungle gym, a few sand tables and set out tricycles and foot-powered minicars for the children to play on the blacktop. It has created a small play loft in its library, but Principal Katie Kerzner said these don’t fully fill the gap with the opportunities the children would have with an outdoor playground.

“I took them outside, and we started to play hide-and-seek,” she said. “There was no place to hide.”

Kerzner said teaching her preschool children games has been difficult without a playground. In addition, the principal said students’ interaction on playground equipment can provide vital life lessons.

“For children with hearing loss, they need opportunities to practice having those language experiences,” she said. “For our kids it’s all about language. They need more typical, realistic situations to practice their skills.”

We are all aching to have something for the spring.”

— Katie Kerzner

The GoFundMe campaign launched by Abbene has raised more than $6,000, as of press time, for an age-appropriate playground for children ages 3 to 7. Cleary’s executive director said the school once had three playgrounds divided by age group: birth to age 3, ages 3 to 7, and a third for older school-aged children in its full-time summer programs. The school has received an estimate of $150,000 to replace one playground, according to Simms, and would require significantly more funds to purchase new age-appropriate, handicapped-accessible equipment for all its students.

“We are all aching to have something for the spring,” the principal said. “Our goal is when the kids open that door, after the snow melts, there’s something out there that will facilitate their play.”

In recent weeks, the GoFundMe campaign has captured the attention of some local businesses, who have stepped forward offering aid, and community residents. Simms said one generous individual stepped into the school to donate $150 in person, not sure how to give via the website. While she is “extremely grateful,” Cleary still needs to raise significant funds.

“The playground presents itself as a must,” Kerzner said. “It’s not something on a wish list. It’s a have-to-have.”

The Heritage Trust, a nonprofit, is looking for help in raising funds to repair Heritage Park's playground. File photo by Erika Karp

Heritage Park has some new arrivals.

Following the unveiling of the plant maze and with a splash pad currently in the works, a free book exchange program has landed at the Mount Sinai square.

The Little Free Library, a free book exchange, is located near the playground, alongside the shack at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai. Photo by Fred Drewes

The park’s newest addition — Little Free Library — can be found next to the shack concession stand, which sits alongside the playground on the west side of the park. A nonprofit organization, Little Free Library inspires a love of reading and builds community relationships by fostering neighborhood book exchanges. According to the U.S. Department of Education, up to 61 percent of low-income families do not have access to books for their children at home, and the organization hopes to increase that access for readers of all ages and backgrounds. The books, which can be borrowed or swapped, are located in a red, house-shaped box on a post in front of a large rock near the shack at the Wedge.

Heritage Trust, the nonprofit that runs the park and the Heritage Center, is also working on enhancing the playground. Repairing and improving the park is a priority for the organization, with the playground being one of the most-used features at the Wedge. With much of the fundraising being weather dependent, the trust has had a difficult time keeping up with events while finding the funds needed to fix sections of the playground. Currently, pieces of the playground have been closed for use, and with the repairs costing more than the trust anticipates — about $7,000 — the nonprofit is looking for the community’s help.

A GoFundMe has been set up to help the trust come up with the money to make repairs.

“Our children in the community really love Heritage Park,” the trust wrote on the GoFundMe page. “The playground gets lots of use, but the repairs are costly. We remain dedicated to maintaining and improving our park for everyone who wants a safe place to enjoy the open spaces and participate in community activities.”

To contribute to Heritage Trust’s fundraising efforts, visit www.gofundme.com/heritageplayground.

Supervisor Frank Petrone cuts the ribbon with some kids to open the new playground at Hobart Beach. Photo by Ted Ryan

By Ted Ryan

Huntington is ready to play, as the town celebrated the opening of a new playground at Hobart Beach in Northport this past Friday, Aug. 12.

The original playground, which was 20 years old, suffered damage from Superstorm Sandy in 2012. After removing some of the sand after the storm, the town discovered the bases were rotting and in need of replacement.

The new playground is made to be fully accessible to children with disabilities to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, as the old playground didn’t reportedly have the same accessibility for all children. According to the town, the new play area “encourages children to engage with each other through varied types of available activities.”

Replacing the old facility with the new one cost $187,000 and was funded by the town’s parks improvement fund. The Environmental Open Space and Park Fund Committee approved the new park as well before construction began.

“We’re delighted that this can happen [through] cooperation of our Open-Space Committee, community and civic groups through the area,” Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said at the opening of the new playground. “This was a long time coming.”

The new playground at Hobart Beach is ready for business. Photo by Ted Ryan
The new playground at Hobart Beach is ready for business. Photo by Ted Ryan

Pieces of the old Hobart playground were salvaged and re-purposed as replacement parts for the playground at Fleets Cove Beach in Huntington. Park benches made for parents to watch their children on the playground were added as well.

Eileen Heinzman, a Northport parent whose children were some of the first to play on the newly opened space, said the new facility is an upgrade for kids.

“[The new playground] is updated and modern,” she said. “It’s definitely an improvement for the community and our town beach. Everyone’s excited that it’s finally here.”

The children at the ceremony anxiously waited for the ribbon to be cut, so they could try out all the new equipment.

“The kids are playing, they’re having a good time, and that’s what this is all about,” said Petrone. “Giving them a playground, giving them a place, and giving them memories. That’s what’s most important. May you use it well, may you enjoy it, and most important, may you be safe.”

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A new model will invite kids to Rocketship Park. Photo from Port Jefferson Village

By Elana Glowatz

The new Rocketship Park’s entrance will be a blastoff to the past.

A new model will invite kids to Rocketship Park. Photo from Port Jefferson Village
A new model will invite kids to Rocketship Park. Photo from Port Jefferson Village

Port Jefferson Village announced on Tuesday that TRITEC Real Estate Company has built and donated a rocket ship model to go in the playground once it’s reconstructed, paying tribute to its past.

While it’s formally known as Clifton H. Lee Memorial Park or Kip Lee Park, the spot off Barnum Avenue at Roessner Lane got the Rocketship nickname from a popular piece of playground equipment that has since aged out of use. Some residents have lamented the loss of the rocket and the fact that the design plans for the new park, which began forming a few years ago, didn’t include one.

The plans call for more natural-looking playground equipment with a high level of handicap-accessibility, including what looks like a giant tree house and a pirate ship that harkens back to the village’s shipbuilding days. There are also plans for swings with different types of seating, walkways, picnic tables, plantings and other play equipment.

Adrienne Kessel, the chair of the Treasure Your Parks Committee that has fundraised for the park reconstruction and operates under the Port Jefferson Harbor Education and Arts Conservancy, previously said play equipment that looks like a rocket is hard to find.

Kessel launched the effort to revamp the downtown children’s park when she was a village trustee. After looking at security features in the wake of vandalism at the site, Kessel saw the need for a full makeover.

“It began with a conversation about adding better lighting but that wasn’t the answer,” she said in a previous interview. “When we went to fix the damaged pieces, we weren’t able to find them. The equipment was obsolete.”

She focused on increased accessibility for kids with special needs because, “Every child should have the chance to play. I couldn’t imagine a park a child couldn’t utilize.”

The reconstruction is expected to cost roughly $550,000 and as of this week, village spokeswoman Jill Russell said, the committee had brought in more than $200,000 toward that goal, between donations of both money and services.

According to the village’s rocket announcement, the first work phase is scheduled to start in October.

TRITEC, which is also working on an apartment complex on the other side of Barnum Avenue at West Broadway, built the rocket ship so that when the park is redone, it “will serve as a lasting reminder of the original rocket ship that first graced the park in 1972,” the village said in a statement.

The company worked on the project for the nonprofit Long Island Home Builders Care, with the help of Huntington-based Kleet Lumber Co., Long Island-based Pro-Coat Painting, and sprinkler system contractor Central Outdoor Services in Port Jefferson Station.

“The model will be placed alongside the entranceway to the new playground and will incorporate ornamental plaques into the design that will highlight the park’s history as well as the generous contributions from the playground’s in-kind donors,” the village said.

Russell explained that the historical information will make mention of the previous rocket: “So that when you come to Rocketship Park, you actually know why it’s called that.”

Fire district offering $1,000 reward

The Lake Grove playground that was set on fire on Sunday, July 26. Photo from Centereach Fire District

The Centereach Fire District is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for burning down a playground at Eugene Auer Elementary School.

On Sunday, July 26, Centereach firefighters responded to a call for a fire behind the Lake Grove school, according to a press release from the fire district. The plastic playground was fully engulfed, but the fire quickly put out. However, the playground was destroyed.

“This wasn’t just any playground,” Fire Commissioner Julia Wilson said. “The community pitched in, joined together and raised money to erect it.”

The Suffolk County Police Department is investigating the Sunday night incident.

The board of fire commissioners unanimously voted to offer a $1,000 reward at their meeting last week. Anyone with information related to the crime, is asked to call Suffolk County Crime Stoppers at 800-220-TIPS (8477) or submit the information electronically at www.tipsubmit.com.