The plans to build a playground accessible to children of all abilities on the east side of Rockville Centre’s Hickey Field have changed, as the space is now set to be constructed next to the parking lot of the John A. Anderson Recreation Center.
The playground, to be named after longtime Recreation Superintendent Anthony Brunetta, known as Mr. B, who died in 2016, is still ex-pected to cost about $1.2 million to build, according to village spokeswoman Julie Scully. It was originally planned to stretch from the northwest corner of Sunrise Highway and North Forest Avenue to the right-field fence of Hickey Field’s smaller baseball diamond, where there are basketball and handball courts.
But after several years of planning, fundraising and fighting to secure a $500,000 state grant for the project, concerns about noise and safety along Sunrise Highway prompted the change of plans. It will now be built next to the Rec Center, where the tennis courts are, Scully said. Some or all of the courts will be removed during construction, and the village is determining whether all of the courts will be permanently re-moved.
“[People] were a little bit concerned with that location with all the cars going by,” Scully said, noting that some children with developmental disabilities have trouble dealing with noise. These concerns had not been previously brought up, she added.
Community members have been looking for ways to fund the playground for more than three years. On June 29, 2015, former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos posed for a photo with local officials and members of the Rockville Centre Little League and Lions Club, who are leading the project, and a $500,000 check that was to go toward construction at Hickey Field. But the state grant was held up after Skelos was indicted on corruption charges that year. A jury found Skelos and his son, Adam, guilty in July in their retrial in Manhattan’s U.S. District Court.
That month, the $500,000 grant was officially awarded to the village for the project through the Senate’s State and Municipal Grant Program, Sen. Todd Kaminsky announced.
“The change of the location of the project requires it to go back to the reviewing authority for additional certification,” Kaminsky explained. “We will push to expedite the process as soon as possible, and we expect that at the conclusion of the process to have a beautiful, boundless playground.”
Because the village has not yet voted to accept the grant, Scully said, it cannot break ground. She noted that the location change should not affect the grant award.
Some involved in the fundraising and planning said they were delighted by the site change. “It’s a bigger location and a better location,” Mayor Francis X. Murray told the Herald.
Martin Brull, who founded the Tommy Brull Foundation in 2008, said the new spot would be safer and quieter, and provide visitors with ample parking. “I’m happy about the decision,” he said. “I didn’t know there was an option for another location.”
The Tommy Brull Foundation, dedicated to raising money for people with physical, mental and emotional challenges, has donated more than $60,000 toward the project, and Brull said he plans to present a check of about $20,000 for the cause at the foundation’s 11th annual fundraiser on Nov. 10.
In all, the Rockville Centre Lions Club collected more than $330,000 for the project as of May, and fliers soliciting donations were sent out in July to about 11,000 Rockville Centre homes. Maureen Jordan, the Lions Club treasurer in charge of funds for this project, did not reveal the most recent fundraising totals, and had not returned the Herald’s phone calls at press time Tuesday.
Tom Bucaria, past president of the village Little League, who was among the first to come up with the idea for Mr. B’s Playground, said that in addition to improving safety, the new location already has lighting and bathrooms.
“We didn’t ask for it,” Bucaria said, “but the mayor thought that this was all worthy of consideration, so it just seemed like a good idea to us.”
Murray said the playground would be more rectangular than the original plans, but he is leaving specific changes up to a committee for the project, which includes members of the Little League and the Lions Club.
He added that he did not expect any changes to the planned equipment on the playground, which formerly included a suspension bridge, musical equipment, a toddler play area and an amphitheater with a stage and seating.
There is no timetable to start the project, according to planners. “People are still raising money,” Murray said, “and when we get the OK from the state again, the committee will meet and see when they want to break ground.”