Locked out! Parents say city keeps tot lot open all night and closed during the day

Lock it up: Bianca Morisit, who brings her young son to the tot lot, says she’s had enough of the park being unlocked at night.
Photo by Arthur De Gaeta

The Parks Department is turning the Lt. Federico Narvaez Tot Lot on Cortelyou Road into haven for night owls, say Ditmas Park parents who claim city officials leave the park wide open all night, then keep the gates locked for most of the morning.

City officials promised to lock the small play space that 85-year-old volunteer Leroy Harris opened and closed each day until March — when he was given the boot for following the rules too strictly — following this paper’s report about claims that the park has been overrun by drug dealers, drinkers, and vagrants.

But a recent visit to the playground showed that whoever is locking up the tot lot is following his own schedule: the gate wasn’t closed at dusk on Aug. 29, when the gate should be locked, but was closed to the public for most of the next morning when it was supposed to be open at 8 am.

Residents were not pleased with the play space’s new hours.

“The park was supposed to be closed at 9 pm [last Tuesday] night,” a Ditmas Park Corner blogger wrote last week. “I visited the park at about 10:15 pm to see the gate open with older man sitting on a bench in the dark in the back corner of the park. That’s not exactly a scene that evokes terror, but the fact remains, the park was supposed to be closed.”

Parks Department officials say they are scrambling to find someone to open and close the park on a regular basis.

“We are looking all other options — including volunteerism — to continue this effort,” said Parks Department spokeswoman Meghan Lalor.

So far, about 11 residents have volunteered to open and close the tot lot, but residents assisting the city’s effort to keep the park safe say more volunteers will be needed.

“The Parks Department’s promise to close the gate at night is a short-term fix only, but one that can tide us over until we find a long-term solution,” said one neighbor, who would only identify herself as Christina.

Volunteers will meet to coordinate a daily schedule in the next two weeks, Christina said.

Yet some hoped for the return Harris, the rule-bound octogenarian who was dismissed from service after parents complained that he was cursing at unruly youngsters and would argue with residents who said he was closing the gate too early.

“If kids were riding bikes he would tell them to stop, and if older kids were in there, he would tell them to leave,” said parent Maria Smythe, who claims that young adults routinely hang out in the park and blast music — which she says is against the park’s rules. “He was good. Being stern was what people needed.”

Harris, however, has made it clear he no plans to return to duty.

“Even if they ask me again, I don’t want to have nothing to do with it,” Harris told this paper in an earlier interview. “Nobody paid me, and all I got was insults.”

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at erosenberg@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at twitter.com/emrosenberg.

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