“For a number of years it’s been a top priority for the community board,” said Council Member Crowley. “When they have a priority list I give it great attention when doling out discretionary funds. I want to utilize that space better than it has been.”
John S. Butz, of landscape architecture and site planning firm Abel Bainnson Butz, LLP, the private firm which developed initial ideas for the redesign, outlined numerous potential renovations, including new lights, drainage systems, new turf on the running track, misting stations and new water fountains, among other initiatives.
Perhaps the most major proposed component of the redesign includes turning two of the four baseball fields into a soccer field. Soccer players and families have long said the Maspeth area does not have enough field space, and Parks Department prohibits the usage of all four baseball fields at the same time, citing safety concerns.
“There are four ball fields that have been underutilized because you can’t use all four at the same time,” said Crowley. “There’s a clear waste of space.”
Members of Middle Village’s Blau Weiss Gottschee Soccer Club turned out in full force on Wednesday, saying that a new soccer field would allow them to expand their programming, for which demand has exploded in recent years, they said. As it stands, the club has to rent fields as far out as Brooklyn and Randall’s Island, and yet still has to turn away children, said the club’s youth coordinator Timon Kalpaxis.
“The sport has grown,” said Kalpaxis. “As it is, we have to turn kids away. We can’t start any more teams because we just don’t have the space.”
He said that in addition to the long treks families had to make to far-away fields, the club also had to pay huge dues to rent out field space.
“We are paying a tremendous amount of money each year for field space,” he said. “Granted, we’ll do that. We’ll do whatever it takes.
But the bottom line is we need a soccer field,” he added.
While many families appeared on board with plans to construct a field, some questioned what would happen to baseball teams displaced by eliminating two fields.
Fred Suzel, who runs an adult men’s softball league that practices and plays at Frank Principe Park, says he fears that with the removal of the two baseball fields, his league will lose the permits his league has maintained since 1965.
“For 40 years we’ve had permits with Maurice Park, and now most likely I’m going to lose them,” he said.
He also questioned the Parks Department’s assertion that permits were only issued for two parks to be utilized at the same time. He said that permits were often issued for three or four fields simultaneously, and that by reducing the number of fields to two, other area teams could potentially be left without a place to practice.
“Someone’s going to miss out,” he said. “And it’s not just my adults, it’s all the youth. Soccer’s great, but where are all the other kids going to go?”
Kalpaxis said that while he understood soccer players’ frustration, he believed that if indeed the two baseball fields were eliminated, the community could work to relocate displaced players.
“If I was a baseball guy I would be reluctant to see a baseball field go away, especially if it had been there forever,” he said. “I feel for these guys. But if as a community we look at what we have in terms of field space, I think we can sit down and rebalance a bit. I think we can achieve space for all sports. There’s a necessity to share what exists.”
If the fields were the most sweeping redesign, community members were vocal about a host of other updates as well.
Joanne O’Connell advocated for more lighting in the park, saying many neighborhood families visited the park during summer nights when dusk fell especially early.
“It’s too hot during the day to go to the park, and when the weather changes it gets darker sooner,” she said. “You have to take the kids home not when you necessarily want to take them home.”
Numerous residents echoed the sentiment, and also asked that bathrooms remained open for later park-goers as well.
Butz said for the most part, the alterations he suggested were more necessity than luxury.
“This is a different kind of visioning process because there’s not a lot of choices here,” he said. “We should have drinking fountains, we should have misting station, just for comfort. Those types of amenities are almost requirements for something like this.”
Queens Parks Department Chief of Staff Joanne Amagrande-Savarese said next her department would analyze the night’s discussions, and report their findings to the Community Board 5 in the fall.