Islip Town officials told Brentwood residents Wednesday night that progress toward reopening Roberto Clemente Park — the hamlet’s largest public recreation area — is on track and community suggestions for its rebirth are being heard.
“We are in this together. Government can’t do it alone. The community can’t do it alone,” town Supervisor Angie Carpenter said during the meeting at Brentwood Public Library. “We really have to be working together.
Clemente Park has remained shuttered since April 2014, when it was discovered that more than 40,000 tons of contaminated construction debris had been dumped illegally in areas across the 27.9-acre space. The materials, laden with toxins, were removed by Islip Town in summer 2015, and the park is in the beginning phase of its reconstruction.
Uplift Brentwood, a grassroots community group formed last year, hosted Wednesday’s meeting to cultivate a dialogue they say has been missing between Islip Town officials and Brentwood residents.
Stephanie Spezia, 52, a social worker who has lived in Brentwood since 1974 and is on the community group’s board of directors, said that since her childhood, Roberto Clemente Park has been “the park” in the hamlet.
“When we were kids, when we said we were ‘going to the park,’ everyone knew where we meant,” Spezia said at the meeting, which drew about 75 people. “We want to be the town’s partner in rebuilding. We’re here because we care about this park, and we care about the community. We don’t want them forget that.”
Several trials connected to the dumping of toxic materials at Clemente Park and other Suffolk locations resulted in multiple convictions.
A sentencing date has been set for April 27 for Thomas Datre Jr. and Christopher Grabe, who both pleaded guilty to felony crimes in March 2016 for dumping at the park and other open areas in Suffolk. Former Islip Town Parks Commissioner Joseph J. Montuori Jr. and his former secretary Brett A. Robinson pleaded guilty in August and were sentenced to conditional discharges in October.
Carpenter, along with town Parks Commissioner Tom Owens and Councilwoman Trish Bergin Weichbrodt, fielded questions at the meeting about efforts to reopen the park safely, what it will contain, and how much community input is being considered.
Backfill work in the areas where debris was removed is expected to be completed in the next six to eight weeks and soil testing will be done throughout the project to ensure the park’s future safety, Owens said. The park’s basketball courts, playground, and soccer and baseball fields are expected to open by summer, Owens said. The pool and a new spray park are expected to open by summer 2018, town officials have said.
Carpenter promised a smoke-free facility and upgraded security at the park, including cameras, lighting and patrols by the town’s public safety division. A bid will go out in the coming weeks for a firm to come up with plans to rebuild the dilapidated pool, Owens said. Plans are in the works to make the park pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly, and Carpenter said she would look into disability access.
Despite Carpenter’s assurances that she welcomed community involvement and suggestions, some at the meeting said more is needed. Residents also said they want to expand membership in a park advisory committee set up by Islip Town as the voice of residents. The supervisor said community input needs to be contained to a handful of committee members.
“If you want this done fast and efficiently, it’s not going to happen if you have 100 people deciding what we’re going to do,” Carpenter told audience members.
Daiana Cajamarca, 47, a Brentwood homemaker with two children, said she’d hope to hear that the park would be “fully” open, pool and all, by this summer.
“I know it’s a very complex issue and we understand it can’t be resolved from one day to the next, but it’s been three years, and we don’t have a local place for our kids to go. Hopefully next summer.”