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All-inclusive playground planned for RVC's Hickey Field

Play area will honor the late Anthony Brunetta

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An inclusive playground on the east side of Rockville Centre's Hickey Field, which has been in the planning stages for years, could finally open next year.

According to the plan, the existing basketball and handball courts would be demolished to make way for the special-needs-accessible playground, which would be named after longtime Recreation Superintendent Anthony Brunetta, widely known as Mr. B, who died on Aug. 5.

Mr. B’s Playground would stretch from the northwest corner of Sunrise Highway and North Forest Avenue to the right-field fence of the smaller baseball field. The two ball fields would remain on the property.

The area would include a suspension bridge, musical equipment such as bells, drums and step-on chimes, five bay swings (toddler, standard and bucket size), a climbing cargo net, a toddler play area, separate play structures for children ages 2 to 5 and 5 to 12, a seating plaza, restrooms, a storage area and an amphitheater with a stage and seating in the northwest corner.

Many of the trees would remain, and the play areas would have a rubberized surface to minimize the chance of injury, and be wheelchair-accessible.

“The whole point of this is not that it’s a handicapped park, it’s a special-needs-accessible [park], meaning that [the kids] play together,” said Rockville Centre Little League President Tom Bucaria, who first proposed the park. “In the rendering, when they first had it, they had a child sitting in a wheelchair. We said, ‘No, have the wheelchair open with five kids playing on an apparatus.’ Who’s the special-needs kid?”

Bucaria said he was first inspired by the idea six years ago, when he came across a special “Challenger” baseball league, which enables boys and girls with special needs to learn and enjoy the game. Three years later, during the 2014 Lions Club’s Dinner in the Dark, he broached the idea of the park to Mayor Francis X. Murray, who, Bucaria recalled, eagerly agreed.

Local organizations have begun fundraising to cover the $1.4 million projected cost of the playground, which includes the equipment, flooring and maintenance. Lions Club Treasurer Maureen Jordan said that around $700,000 would be needed to open the park with some of the amenities, with more added later when more funding becomes available. The surface would be one of the more expensive parts of the project, costing just over $233,000.

Over the past three years, the features of the park were planned and the land was inspected for safety purposes. “There really hasn’t been a delay in bringing the park to fruition,” said Lions Club board member Anthony Paradiso. “The time lag is a function of a slow and deliberate process whereby steps were taken to secure village approvals, complete engineering studies and apply for government grants. The present fundraising effort is the logical next phase in the process as we move toward groundbreaking later this year.”

Paradiso added that the “best case scenario” is for the park to open next spring.

Murray said that an unidentified donor had pledged $250,000 to the project. Village officials added that the New York State Dormitory Authority had promised a $500,000 grant that would also be used for the park, but the money had not yet been received.

The Lions Club and other community organizations, including the Little League and the Tommy Brull Foundation, are planning fundraisers in the coming months. The first one is Dine Around Town, set for April 4, when 20 participating restaurants will donate 20 percent of each bill to funding the playground. There will be a guest bartending event at Monaghan’s on May 18, a concert at Blackthorn’s on May 20 — at which more than 20 local musicians and bands will cover the songs of Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Neil Young — and the annual Dinner in the Dark on June 3.

In the 1950s, Brunetta, a construction worker, took a part-time job with the village’s Recreation Department, and organized the first RVC Softball League. He discovered that he loved working with children, and became a full-time staff member in 1973. In 1980 he was named the superintendent of the Recreation Department, and in 1988 he became the superintendent of the Department of Parks.