By Sabina Mollot
After years of delays due to budget and contractor related issues, work finally began to complete the restoration of the historic cast iron fence that surrounds Stuyvesant Square Park’s east section.
Starting late last month, large sections of the landmarked fence were hoisted in via crane as were the fence posts, which were placed temporarily on the lawn.
At some point in the coming months there will be a ribbon cutting, but in the meantime, the construction itself is something to celebrate for community activists who’ve been pushing for this project’s completion for 20 years.
Mark Thompson, a member of the Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Association, has been through the entire process, as a longtime SPNA member and as the chair of Community Board 6’s Parks, Landmarks and Cultural Affairs Committee. He’s seen the project fall apart in the past when part of the allocated funding for $5.5 million project wound up getting taken away from the fence and allocated towards other city needs and later when one contractor who’d secured the bid had to be replaced with another. Apparently, craftspeople capable of restoring rotted metal fences are hard to find.
By the spring of 2012 the last $600,000 needed to fund the project was allocated by then Borough President Scott Stringer, after a letter-writing push by a community group. But still the work, which also included repaving a bluestone sidewalk outside the park, wasn’t done. Another false start came in November, 2014, when Parks Department officials told Thompson that construction would soon start. But then again it didn’t.
“The community has been waiting for decades for this to get done,” Thompson told Town & Village.
As for the most recent delay, he learned from Parks officials who came to CB6 meetings for the occasional update, it had to do with a subcontractor.
This company, after getting pretty far in the bid process, was ultimately found not to have met certain city qualifications.
“So instead of it being a two-year process it became a three and a half year process,” said Thompson.
Additionally, as he learned along the way, restoring a fence that’s over a century old and partially rotted is a time-intensive task.
“They had to try to keep every piece they could and then copy what they couldn’t,” said Thompson. “It would have been cheaper to tear the whole thing down and melt it. It would have been one tenth of the cost, but you can’t because it’s a landmark.”
Fortunately, unlike the city’s approvals process, the actual installation of the fence has moved along quickly and Thompson said he was told the work should be done by the end of May, not including some followup testing.
Michael Alcamo, whose group Friends of Stuyvesant Square Park led the letter writing campaign requesting the last bit of funding for the fence, said this week he was told that the fence as well as the additional work to complete the bluestone sidewalk, would be completed by October.
“We were extremely happy to hear from Parks that contractors would soon finish the work, and the park will reopen,” said Alcamo, executive director of Friends of Stuyvesant Square Park. “The East Park was scheduled for completion in 2015. We are working closely with the city to ensure that the proper wheelchair access is installed, that pedestrian crossings are clearly marked, and that the sidewalks and fountains are restored to working order,” he said.
Work to restore the park’s fence around the west section was completed several years ago.
As for the newly restored fence on the east side of Second Avenue, it should remain in its good-as-new state for a long time to come. Thompson noted that the fence posts will now be positioned off the ground on concrete footings. Previously the fence’s corroded state had been sped up due to its continued contact with soil.
Town & Village reached out to the Parks Department for more information on the reasons for the delays, but didn’t get a response.
Alcamo said he didn’t get much of an explanation either.
“At first, the city told us the contractor had walked off the job,” he said. “Then, we heard that a new contractor had been hired for the project. We could not be more grateful to the residents who have joined us in contacting elected officials to make this project a priority.”