City scraps plan to convert Gravesend schoolyard to public park after community rally

gravesend schoolyard
A proposal to convert the schoolyard at IS 228 in Gravesend into a public park was recently vacated.
Photo by Jessica Parks

A group of educators, politicians, and parents rallied Monday afternoon against a city plan to convert a Gravesend schoolyard into a public park — and by the next day, the mayor’s office reportedly scrapped the plan. 

“After listening to community feedback, this project will no longer move forward,” wrote Laura Feyer, the deputy press secretary to the mayor, in an email to Brooklyn Paper. 

The Parks Department’s initial proposal would have poured $4.5 million into IS 228’s schoolyard for public amenities — opening it up to the public, as opposed to just the building’s sixth-through-eighth grade students during school hours.

Prior to the mayor’s reversal, protesters — led by Assemblymember William Colton and the school’s principal, Dominick D’Angelo — gathered in front of the Avenue S school hoisting signs that said, “Go park your park somewhere else,” and “No park in our yard.”

The group blasted the plan as outdated and inconsiderate of the school’s growth, as well as of its needs during the pandemic.

“This project was spoken about ten years ago, and ten years ago, when we had 800 students, it made some sense,” D’Angelo told Brooklyn Paper. “Now, we have over 1,600 students coming out of a pandemic. We are overcrowded.”

The David A. Boody Junior High School has nearly doubled in size over the past ten years, according to education watchdog organization InsideSchools.

“Almost ten years ago, this school was a very different school,” said Colton, crediting D’Angelo for “turn[ing] the school around.”

But it’s more than just a bad idea, the pol contended. Colton argued that the city didn’t conduct any outreach to community advisory groups — claims supported by both Community Board 11 and Community Education Council 21.

“This project was not presented to Community Board 11 for review, nor was it listed in the board’s geographical capital commitment plan, and there was no community input,” wrote Marnee Elias -Parvia, district manager of CB11 in a Dec. 16, 2020 letter addressed to Mayor Bill de Blasio and city Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver. 

Though some stakeholders stand opposed to the planned conversion, others argue that the schoolyard is being used as a parking lot for the school’s administration and that it would get more use if it were open to the public.

“Call it what it is, a Parking Lot,” tweeted Kings County Democratic County Committee member Megan DiMotta. “Congratulations on taking a public park away from children so you can park a bunch of cars.”

Bensonhurst and its surrounding neighborhoods have less park area than most other city districts, with only 2 percent of the area’s 3,700 acres dedicated to recreational green space, according to a recent report.

Community District 11 — which encompasses Bath Beach, Gravesend, Mapleton, and Bensonhurst — has just 61 acres worth of parkland, according to the 2021 Open Spaces Profiles report published by the advocacy organization, New Yorkers for Parks. Of 59 community districts, CD11 ranks 55th when it comes to percentage of parkland.

Colton — who claims he is one of 15 members of the state Assembly who automatically vote against any bill that focuses on eradicating a park also pointed to another park just down the street as another reason the city’s plan is not needed. 

“Four blocks away — you can almost see it on McDonald Avenue — is the [McDonald Playground], it’s not like there is no park here.”

Furthermore, some residents maintain the Gravesend schoolyard conversion would open the park to inappropriate uses, such as alcohol and drugs, therefore putting students at risk.

I’m worried about public safety,” said Dr. Tim Law. “In the future, who knows, they may use drugs over there.”

Though the city has scrapped the plans for IS 228, Colton told Brooklyn Paper that there are other schools in the city that might be interested in this sort of project.

As for his district?

“This is not wanted, it’s not needed,” he maintained. “There are other communities that would love to have this, who need it.”