'Rocketship Park' in Port Jefferson to land a new look

Older playground equipment will be replaced at Clifton Older playground equipment will be replaced at Clifton H. Lee Memorial Park in Port Jefferson. (Aug. 27, 2013) Photo Credit: Ed Betz

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The playground known as "Rocketship Park" is set to blast off in a new direction.

Port Jefferson Village officials are planning a $580,000 renovation of the playground at Clifton H. Lee Memorial Park, including new "inclusive play" rides that will be accessible to children with disabilities.

Slides and swing sets at the park -- which opened in the mid-1970s -- are deteriorating, and new parts are difficult to obtain, said village trustee Adrienne Kessel. The neon colors of the 20-year-old rides are faded.

State guidelines require that park renovations include new handicapped-accessible equipment, village officials said. The revamped park is expected to feature rides such as swings that are lower to the ground and equipped with handles.

"These are taxpayer-funded," Kessel said. "These should be accessible to anyone who wants to use them."

Port Jefferson officials plan to spend about $300,000 from village funds for the park. The Village Board voted on Aug. 5 to seek up to $300,000 from a state matching fund.

The renovation plan is scheduled to be discussed at the village board's meeting on Monday, Kessel said. Public input is welcome.

The project, slated to begin next year, should be completed by 2015, village officials said. Portions of the park are expected to be closed during the renovation, and it may be completely closed at times, Kessel said.

The 4,000-square-foot playground -- known to many village residents as "Rocketship Park" because of the spaceship-themed rides that originally occupied it -- is used by thousands of children and adults each year, Kessel said. Patients from nearby St. Charles Hospital use it as part of their physical therapy, she added.

Park equipment is set in sand, beach-style, which makes it virtually inaccessible for wheelchair users. The sand is to be replaced with a poured rubberized surface.

In addition to new rides, the renovation is set to include a water fountain -- the park doesn't have one -- and a "sitting wall" where parents can rest on shaded benches. The village also may add trees for more shade, and the park will be expanded by eliminating nearby basketball hoops.

"We think it's a great project," said Nicole Christian, the village's grant writer. "There are very few inclusive-play parks of this kind, of this size, for villages like this on the water, on Long Island."

The rebuilt playground is expected to attract more visitors to the park, which is within walking distance of the downtown shopping district and close enough to Port Jefferson Harbor to hear ferry horns.

More importantly, Kessel said, children of all abilities will be able to play outdoors instead of sitting inside playing computer games.

"One of the things we need is for a child to use their imagination," she said. "Because everything now is so interactive."

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