Damaged Freeport playground to be rebuilt this weekend

Victoria Dinielli, director of the Freeport Recreation Center,

Victoria Dinielli, director of the Freeport Recreation Center, poses for a portrait where a new playground will be built at the recreation center Friday, May 2, 2014. Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

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A playground for young children will be rebuilt at the Freeport Recreation Center this weekend, a year after it was shut down because age and storm damage made it unsafe.

The play area for children age 2 to 5 had been part of the recreation center for 30 years of the facility's 40-year existence and frequently used by families in the village of 43,000 people.

But three decades of wear and tear, plus the back-to-back hits from Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 and superstorm Sandy in 2012, took their toll and the play area was cordoned off in April 2013.

Playground designer Vanessa Martelli of New Rochelle noticed the off-limits site on the north side of the recreation center in mid-October when she was refurbishing a larger area for older children on the south side of the building.

"It was a death trap," she said of the young children's site. "Equipment was rusty and some of it broken. It was old and unsafe."

So she asked village officials to raze it.

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"They did it, and I promised I would help with a new playground at the site," Martelli said.

Freeport's Village Board accepted her offer.

"Playgrounds help children to engage each other and develop many fond memories and friendships," Mayor Robert Kennedy said. "We . . . hope that children will reap the benefits of this playground for many years to come."

Martelli, who donated her time and expertise, is a member of Injuries Free Coalition for Kids that helps provide playgrounds in areas recovering from disasters, such as Sandy.

Martelli contacted fellow coalition member Alexandra's Playground, a Brooklyn nonprofit, which agreed to donate more than $55,000 toward rebuilding the Freeport park. The group also expects to provide about half of the 75 volunteers who will rebuild the park on Saturday, said Alexandra's Playground spokeswoman Tricia Heywood. Other volunteers are expected to be Freeport residents, she said. Little Tikes, based in Hudson, Ohio, is selling them playground equipment at a discount, Heywood said.

Not counting the village's cost for preparing the ground and laying the concrete, rebuilding the playground is expected to cost about $75,000, Martelli said as she reviewed the plans that include slides, climbers and interactive panels.

"Kids need as many playgrounds as they can get," said Tara Valot, a 19-year resident of the village who has a daughter, Julianne, 5. "There is just not enough things for them to do."

Donna Barr, a resident of about 15 years, with a daughter, Sacha, 4, said she, too, is "always happy to have another playground."

Recreation Center manager Victoria Dinielli said the new playground will be open in the summer for residents and nonresidents using the outdoor swimming pools. The rest of the year, it will be fenced "and everybody can use it," she said.

Playground construction is to begin with an opening ceremony at 9 a.m. Saturday and end with a ribbon cutting about 4 p.m.

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