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For 2-year-old Louis Finkel, it was a long nine months. But now that his treasured playground in Alley Pond Park has reopened, he could not help but smile.
“He kept looking toward the playground,” said grandmother Millie Finkel. “Now he’s having an absolute ball. He loves the park.”
Northeast Queens leaders and representatives from the city Parks Department celebrated the Oakland Gardens playground’s return after a suspicious fire gutted the spot in September.
“We are very happy to see the playground finally reopened,” said City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens). “We were heartbroken to see so many kids try and use the park while it was closed down.”
The playground’s equipment was replaced with help from $175,000 in funding through a mayoral requirements contract, Parks said. Work to revive the playground started in April.
“All things considered, to get the playground reopened by the summer time is phenomenal,” said Northeast Queens Parks Administrator Janice Melnick. “We are all excited.”
The playground initially closed Sept. 28 when firefighters responded to a call of a small fire just after 1 a.m. The heat from the flames eventually became so intense that it warped and twisted the steel beams of the playground equipment’s structure.
By the time firefighters had extinguished the flames, a large piece of equipment had been destroyed and an adjacent plastic roof had melted, Parks said.
Portions of the playground unaffected by the flames remained erect while an entirely new portion was built alongside it. The fresh additions include new slides and tree-themed pathways.
Though the cause of the fire was still unknown after eight months, Weprin said it was likely an act of vandalism involving area teenagers.
“We have a feeling it was young people,” Weprin said. “We don’t know for sure, but we know the playground became a real fireball.”
Weprin and Melnick joined with Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski, Community Board 11 Chairman Jerry Iannece and 111th Precinct Commanding Officer Jason Huerta to celebrate the playground’s reopening as area kids and parents laughed and played all around them.
“We wanted to get the playground open as soon as possible,” Weprin said. “We are happy that it’s open now and everyone has the whole summer to enjoy it.”
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4573.
©2012 Community Newspaper Group
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