Today’s news:

Park gets $1 million makeover

The Utopia Playground in Fresh Meadows is much more aptly named now that a $1 million renovation of the space has been completed, bringing with it three new play areas, including one that is handicapped-accessible.

“One of the things we wanted to do here is make a completely accessible park,” said City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), who allocated more than $1 million for the playground. “I’m glad this park is among the ranks of parks that are welcoming to all children, no matter their physical ability.”

Gennaro was joined by Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski, state Assemblymen Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) and Mark Weprin (D-Little Neck), a throng of excited children and other community officials for Utopia Playground’s ribbon-cutting Friday morning.

“This park is used by so many people,” Lancman said. “If you come by on a Saturday, you’ll see so many Orthodox Jewish families here enjoying their day of rest.”

Utopia Playground, at the corner of 73rd Avenue and Utopia Parkway, was in need of serious improvements prior to the $1 million upgrade, according to Community Board 8 member Mark Haken.

“It was rundown,” said Haken, a member of the board’s parks committee. “It needed a total rehab. This is great now.”

The playground now boasts three separate spaces, one with handicapped equipment, one designed for smaller children and another for the older kids. There is a wide variety of new equipment, such as swings, including one specifically for a wheelchair-bound child; slides; a miniature climbing wall; and a merry-go-round — which is more like a large spinning disc.

The installment of handicapped equipment at Utopia has been nine years in the making. Inspired by her friend’s wheelchair-bound daughter, Utopia Estates Civic Association President Tami Hirsch appealed to Gennaro in October 2000 to install handicapped-friendly facilities at the playground.

Fresh Meadows resident Ellen Miller’s now-grown daughter, Cindy Miller, who has muscular dystrophy, proved to be Hirsch’s inspiration to push for the playground that Ellen Miller said will give handicapped children the chance to feel like they are part of something.

“My daughter would be very thrilled about this,” Ellen Miller said.

About 18 students attending summer camp at nearby PS 173 came to Friday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, and PS 173 Principal Molly Wang said the playground will give many of her school’s students a great place to have fun and be healthy at the same time.

“Most of the kids at PS 173 live around here, and this gives them an opportunity for them to exercise,” Wang said. “Kids need a venue to exercise.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.

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