Repair of Stuyvesant Square Park’s historic fence to start soon, city says

Money was raised to fix the fence outside of Stuyvesant Square Park in 2012. (Photo by Michael Alcamo)

Money was raised to fix the fence outside of Stuyvesant Square Park in 2012. (Photo by Michael Alcamo)

By Sabina Mollot

It was almost two and half years ago, in June of 2012 when the last $600,000 needed for the restoration of Stuyvesant Square Park’s historic, cast iron fence and the surrounding sidewalk was finally allocated after years of fundraising. The project, which had been pushed by the Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Association, eventually had a total price tag of $5.5 million, funded by local elected officials.

But today, work on the fence on the park’s east section, which needs some of its rotted pieces recreated, still hasn’t begun. A separate project to fix the park’s west section fence had been completed earlier. Work to accompany the fence project, such as fixing the damaged bluestone sidewalk, has also still not been done. Yet another long awaited and related project, to install a curb cut or ramp at the park’s eastern gate to allow access to wheelchair users, has also still not happened.

But fortunately for those whose who’ve been following the progress, or rather lack of it, change does finally appear to be on the horizon.

Community Board 6’s Parks Committee has been assured by the Parks Department that work will begin soon. Or rather, that it already has. Mark Thompson, who heads Community Board 6’s Parks Committee, said he’s been told the official start date of the project was October 20. However, he was also warned that this wouldn’t mean shovels would hit the ground on that date although work would begin internally on the project.

As for when the actual repairs will start, there still doesn’t seem to be a set date for that, and one local tree-planting and park activist, Michael Alcamo, has said he’ll believe it when he sees it.

Alcamo, a Stuyvesant Town resident, had spearheaded a letter writing campaign in 2012 that was instrumental in securing the last of the funds for the project from then-Borough President Scott Stringer. Though he conceded some of the blame for the delay on getting started was finding artisans capable of repairing the landmarked fence, which apparently there aren’t too many of, he said he is now concerned the project is no longer even considered a priority by the city. Alcamo referred to the mayor’s recently announced initiative to focus on the needs of parks in outer boroughs, particularly in poorer areas.

“Has the money been allocated to outer boroughs? That would be useful for the community to know,” said Alcamo.

He added that the fence isn’t even his main concern, but the cracked sidewalk is since that could pose a danger to pedestrians, as is the lack of of a wheelchair ramp.

Tree and park activist Michael Alcamo has been pushing the city to install a ramp for disabled park goers at the park’s entrance. (Photo by Michael Alcamo)

Tree and park activist Michael Alcamo has been pushing the city to install a ramp for disabled park goers at the park’s entrance. (Photo by Michael Alcamo)

“In 1990, the Americans With Disabilities Act required that public facilities, including parks, must be accessible to persons with disabilities,” said Alcamo. “The eastern side of Stuyvesant Square Park, which faces Stuyvesant Town, has not been in compliance for 24 years. We have been asking for four years for a curb cut in order to make the park accessible to persons of limited mobility.”

Alcamo, who recently founded an organization called Friends of Stuyvesant Square Park, had hoped to speed up the curb cut installation by asking Community Board 6 to pass a resolution calling for the work to be done, but, he said, the board’s Parks Committee declined. As for why the committee didn’t want to take that step, Thompson told Town & Village he didn’t think a resolution would be necessary since the community board has already had assurances from the Parks Department that the project will begin soon, including the installation of a ramp.

Thompson added that he did understand Alcamo’s concerns since early on the fundraising process, $500,000 of the project’s funds were reallocated to another Parks Department need.

“It shouldn’t have happened, but it did,” said Thompson. Because of this, CB6 has been “politely” nudging the city about the park from time to time. “We’re all concerned,” he said. But he added, “the money is allocated. It is happening.”

A rep for Parks echoed Thompson in saying the city is not redirecting the project’s cash elsewhere.

“No funds have been reallocated from Manhattan to the other boroughs and all the funds allocated for this project are intact,” Philip Abramson, a Parks Department spokesperson told T&V.

The contractor on the project is UA Construction, who was selected after the initially chosen vendor (chosen for being the lowest bidder) ended up not working out. UA Construction was the second lowest bidder. The lowest bidder, Abramson said, “was not successful in going through the pre-qualification process.”

He didn’t respond to a question about why the first company didn’t qualify though he did say that at this time UA Construction is working with the Department of Transportation on getting a permit for a street closure so work can begin.

Rosalee Isaly, the president of the Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Association, said she’s had a recent discussion with Parks reps to make sure the dog walkers who come to use the park’s dog run will be able to access it while work is ongoing.

“They’ll be aware of them,” she said of the dog walkers. She added that come springtime, the park’s west side will also get some attention with the installation of an irrigation system. “All that planting that gets done needs water and the watering this past summer was torturous,” she said. “They had to drag in hoses.”

The labor-intensive act of planting should pay off in the spring though. Dozens of volunteers, mainly high school and college students, have been participating in monthly gardening days at the park to plant, paint benches and rake leaves. On a volunteer day in October, around 11,500 bulbs for tulips, daffodils and bluebells were planted.

“It’s really warming,” said Isaly. “I think it’s going to be spectacular spring in the park.”

A DOT spokesperson did not respond to a request from T&V asking about the status of the permit and where the street closures would be exactly.

Dangerously low branch cut from tree at Stuyvesant Square Park

A tree branch that at its lowest point hovered six feet away from the ground was cut off on Tuesday, following a tragedy earlier in the week when a woman was killed by a falling tree in a Queens park. The left circle shows a weakness in the branch while the right one is the tree's lowest point. Photo by Michael Alcamo

A tree branch that at its lowest point hovered six feet away from the ground was cut off on Tuesday, following a tragedy earlier in the week when a woman was killed by a falling tree in a Queens park. The left circle shows a weakness in the branch while the right one is the tree’s lowest point.
Photo by Michael Alcamo

By Sabina Mollot

Following a horrific incident of a tree falling over in a park in Queens, killing a pregnant woman last Sunday night, on Tuesday, the Parks Department cut down a large branch on a tree in Stuyvesant Square Park that had been hanging dangerously low since the winter.

It was local tree advocate Michael Alcamo who’d noticed that the branch, which was around 30 feet long and on a tree that’s located near one of the park’s east side entrances, was becoming a potential hazard.

Two weeks ago, Alcamo, a resident of Stuyvesant Town, reported the problem to the Parks Department, where a rep thanked him for the heads up and said the alert had been sent to a forestry director. However, as of Monday, the park branch remained hanging lower than ever, Alcamo said.

After being contacted by Town & Village for comment, a rep for the department, Philip Abramson, responded the following day to say that the tree limb had been removed. Abramson added that some other pruning work was also done in the park.

Meanwhile, Alcamo, who’s convinced the city to plant over 300 street trees around the Stuyvesant Town and Stuyvesant Square areas in recent years, has also always been vigilant about checking on the status of street and park trees, seeing if they need water or attention for other reasons like pedestrian safety.

In his letter to Parks Borough Commissioner Bill Castro, dated July 25, Alcamo made mention of the fact that an incident not too dissimilar from the tragedy in Queens had also occurred in Stuyvesant Square Park. It was six years ago, he noted, when social worker Alexis Handwerker, who’d been sitting in the park, was badly injured when an oversized tree branch came crashing down on her. After five years of litigation, in February, 2012, Handwerker finally reached a settlement with the city for $4.1 million.

“We ask the city to dedicate only a small portion of the amount it paid in that settlement to tree care and preventive maintenance in Stuyvesant Square Park,” said Alcamo. “We must do everything we can to prevent accidents, and make the park safe and enjoyable for all patrons.”

As for the tree in Queens’ Kissena Park, when it came down, it almost immediately killed 30-year-old Chinese emigrant Yingyi Li. In a New York Post article on her death, park goers and State Senator Tony Avella put the blame on a lack of maintenance for the park’s trees.

Alcamo suggested that Parks employees make it a monthly task to check which park trees could use pruning, specifically for safety reasons. In response, Abramson told T&V that the park is inspected “regularly for any potential tree concerns.” There was no response to a question of how the tree ended up falling in Kissena Park.

Alcamo said he believes the tree in question at Stuyvesant Square, an American elm labeled number 162, was weakened over the winter due to having snow and ice pile onto the branches. The low hanging branch was not far from the entrance that’s close to the emergency room at Beth Israel. It’s heavily used by hospital employees as well as parents walking their kids to the nearby Jack & Jill nursery school.

Stuyvesant Square Park, located between 15th and 17th Streets and separated into two sections by Second Avenue, is maintained by the Parks Department. The Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Association members as well as other volunteers also help oversee the park. Recently, Alcamo founded a group he calls Friends of Stuyvesant Square Park, and said he plans to recognize groups and businesses that support the park along with other local efforts.