Volunteers help rebuild damaged Freeport playground

Members of Friends of Freeport and Alexandra's Playground

Members of Friends of Freeport and Alexandra's Playground worked throughout the morning and early afternoon on Saturday, May 10, 2014, on erecting a new playground at the Freeport Recreation Center. (Credit: Johnny Milano)

Dozens of volunteers lent their power-drilling and heavy-lifting skills Saturday to rebuild a playground at the Freeport Recreation Center, a year after it was closed due to age and damage from superstorm Sandy and Tropical Storm Irene.

The play area for children ages 2 to 5 had been part of the recreation center for 30 years but was cordoned off in April 2013 after the damage created unsafe conditions.

"It was a disappointment" to children who frequented the playground, said Victoria Dinielli, director of the recreation center. "Now they will be excited to have their playground back, and their moms will be excited to keep their children busy," she said, adding that it will officially open the first weekend in June after floor padding is installed.


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The new, sunflower-themed playground includes double, single and spiral slides as well as a panel through which kids can view a kaleidoscope, and interactive gear panel, said playground designer Vanessa Martelli of New Rochelle.

Martelli noticed the cordoned-off playground when she was refurbishing a larger area for older children on the south side of the building in mid-October. Alexandra's Playground -- a Brooklyn nonprofit that has constructed playgrounds from Kabul, Afghanistan, to the 5th Ward of New Orleans -- agreed to donate more than $55,000 after they were contacted by Martelli. Both groups are members of the Injury Free Coalition for Kids.

Not counting the village's cost for preparing the ground and laying the concrete, the project is expected to cost about $75,000, officials said.Alexandra's Playground founders Andrea and Michael Vitale of Westchester said they selected the park because the recreation center was a strong community partner that would maintain it and ensure safety.

"Playgrounds are disappearing with development," said Michael Vitale, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon. "Active play is being replaced by technology and passive screen time," which some statistics show contributes to diabetes and obesity, he said.

Several members of Friends of Freeport -- a group that works to return Sandy victims to their homes by offering free plant removal and home improvement services -- planted catnip and daylilies near the playground.

Sharon Gabler, 49, of Freeport, whose home was devastated by Sandy, said, "It keeps me going by giving me a good feeling of helping others, because people helped me."

Thirteen fifth-grade Girl Scouts from Packer Troop 2508, based in Brooklyn Heights, also used wire brushes to scrape posts of an adjacent metal canopy that will later be painted as part of their community service project.

Carly Mraz, 10, said she was happy "to know that kids are going to really have fun here," she said. "It just feels good because you're helping others."

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