Community Board 7’s Parks and Environment Committee closed out its November business by hosting the Central Park Conservancy to discuss the renovation of the Abraham and Joseph Spector Playground located just inside the park between West 85th and 86th streets.
The Spector Playground is one of twenty-one playgrounds located around the perimeter of the park that were built during the Robert Moses era. It was later abandoned but transformed in 1976 and again most recently in 1994.
Both restorations are reflected in what remains of the current timber frame equipment and allotted space.
However, the upcoming project will move the location slightly north and cut down a bit on the overall play space. It also intends to honor its past. CPC’s Vice President for Program Management Diana Jackier Kestenbaum reported that the Conservatory will “acknowledge the prominence of this playground within the Seneca Village and re-envision the playground as a play and family gathering space connected to the surrounding landscape.”
Despite being one of the largest playgrounds in the park, its current iteration is “pretty empty” and thus lacking in value for kids. Many of its pieces have been removed over the years as they reached the end of their useful life span.
The new playground will reportedly incorporate the feedback of approximately 30 members of the community (children and their caretakers) and include swings, tire swings, a large climbing structure and a water feature.
Though CPC is still working on designing the equipment, it is expected that both wood and boulders will be used to vibe with the current topography.
Nick Koster, CPC’s Vice President for Design, likened the anticipated design to the East 96th Street playground which was revamped in 2019. Specifically, the swing frame and climbing area will have wooden frames and the water feature will contain the boulders.
While the playground currently includes play areas for the two- to five-year-old age group and a sandbox, both features will be eliminated in the upcoming construction. The future space will cater to five- to twelve-year-old children with Koster noting that the changes will complement the separate Toll Family Playground just south near 84th Street, which is geared towards younger kids.
The future overall play space will be smaller: 24,937 sq. ft versus 26,196. However, the new spot will include a picnic area just outside of the play surface. The seven-foot-high fence will also be lowered to four feet when the playground relocates just slightly north of its current footprint. This change will clear one of the known foundations of the houses that existed during the time of Seneca Village. The southern perimeter will also be adjusted northward so that the two large oak trees inside the playground will be on the outskirts, thereby realigning the entry point and eliminating the Moses area path.
CPC hopes to have bids chosen this spring and to break ground in the summer. Construction is expected to take a year. When it does reopen, the space will be renamed the West 85th Street Playground, a change the Spector family is aware of.
This project – budgeted at $5 million from private philanthropic fundraising including all accessibility features and equipment changes – will be the first of two in this area of Central Park. A separate project to commemorate Seneca Village is in the works.
All eight members of the committee voted in favor of the project as outlined by CPC. However, the conservatory will be presenting again in the spring.