A new beginning for Roberto Clemente Park was officially ushered in Monday, as a field where contaminated debris was once buried was reborn as a pristine lawn where children blew bubbles and families gathered around picnic tables.
The town of Islip held a community fun event Monday for hundreds of residents to herald Brentwood’s largest park reopening after being closed for three years. While the park had reopened on July 31, the event Monday marked the official town celebration.
DJ Essence played music while children Hula-Hooped and romped in the playground. The newly resurfaced basketball court was busy with dozens of players, including some Suffolk County police officers.
Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter beamed as her grandson Joey, 3, ran around the jungle gym. “It’s an opportunity to pull the community together,” she said of the event.
In 2014, the park was shuttered after the discovery of 40,000 tons of contaminated construction debris that had been dumped in the fields.
“It’s nice to see the community coming together. It’s really a nice thing,” said Central Islip resident Yolanda Brown as her daughter Genesis, 9, zipped around on a hoverboard.
Residents talked about overcoming not just the debris dumping scandal, but the neighborhood’s violent history as well. In 2009, a 13-year-old boy was shot in the head and critically wounded while playing basketball at the park, then called Timberline Park.
Brentwood is also one of the communities where Salvadorean gang MS-13 has a presence, and last year the gang was implicated in the homicides of two teenage girls in the neighborhood and an alleged fellow gangmember. Last month, President Donald Trump held a news conference in Brentwood where he vowed to eliminate the gang.
“This used to be a really bad park,” said Brentwood resident Dean Digeronimo, who, with his wife, Brooke, was eating some food truck empanadas and yucca fries. “Now you see the cops are actually playing basketball with the kids here.”
But some residents were critical of the town.
Community activist Royetta Alston of Central Islip said the town has poorly handled the reopening. “The park is not ready. They put the basketball court in, but that’s it,” Alston said. “The bathrooms should have been reopened.”
One popular question from residents was when the park’s Olympic-sized pool would reopen. “The pool, it should be open by now completely. If this was West Islip, this wouldn’t have occurred at all,” Brown said.
Carpenter said the town was moving apace on the pool renovation, with the town board scheduled to vote on awarding a vendor the renovation contract at the Aug. 22 board meeting.
Parks Commissioner Tom Owens said the pool renovation ccould begin by October. Once the pool renovations are completed, the park’s sidewalks and parking lots could then be repaved, Owens said. Other future improvements include reseeding the soccer field, building a spray park next to the pool, and installing adult exercise equipment and new playground equipment.