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City negotiating for park

As city officials press on with their efforts to buy the concrete athletic field next to the Garden School for public park space, civic leaders and parents in the community are working not only to make sure the deal goes through, but that the field will be better than ever.

The Garden School, a private K-12 institution at 33-16 79th St., wants to sell its adjacent athletic field, which is currently listed on the web site of real estate company Massey Knakal for $5.25 million. City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) has secured $4 million and Borough President Helen Marshall $1 million to buy the land and make it into a park contiguous with Travers Park at 78th Street and 34th Avenue which the school could still use during the day.

But the school has told parents, civic leaders and city officials its financial situation has moved them to open the sale of the lot to developers, as they need money before the city expects to complete its Uniform Land Use Review Process on the property, which is required before the city buys it.

Yet the prospect of a city-owned park appears to outside observers to be a little closer. Howard Wolfson, deputy mayor for governmental affairs, has gotten involved with the process and has met with school administrators numerous times. He said the negotiations were ongoing and going well.

“This is a community that is very much in need of additional park space,” Wolfson said.

The Garden School did not respond to calls for comment as of press time Tuesday evening.

Ed Westley of the Jackson Heights Beautification Group also said he had heard rumblings the city and the school were close to an agreement.

“We’re very happy about that,” he said, although he said the school’s administration had not been returning calls or e-mails to civic leaders.

Meanwhile, civic leaders and parents have been initiating efforts of their own to make sure the park goes to the city. In February, civic leaders set up a fund to offer a $500,000 loan for the park so the Garden School could cover its immediate expenses for the next year. The web site growapark.org, which the civics created to push the fund and track how much money has been raised, said the civics have $456,000 so far.

“We’re hoping that everything will just go through and the school will agree to sign with the city,” Dudley Stewart of the Jackson Heights Green Alliance said.

If the school does, the civics and parents already have an idea of what they want. A rendering by allies for a new city park shows the Garden School’s concrete lot transformed into one with greenery, a running track, a baseball diamond, a soccer field and a basketball court. Another rendering shows the Garden School lot connected to Travers Park through the play street on 78th Street, which could be possible if the play street is open all-year round, a hopeful Stewart said.

“[It] would be great, wonderful for everyone,” he said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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