The parks department broke ground in April on improvements to Van Cortlandt Park that will add a skate park and refurbished basketball court.
The project between West 242nd and West 240th streets was funded by the city council through Oliver Koppell — a councilman who represented the 11th district before leaving office in 2013. Budgeted at $1 million, the park improvements were supposed to start in 2014, but three years of planning later, the project finally got off the ground April 11 at a ceremony, which included Councilman Andrew Cohen — who replaced Koppell in 2014 after he was term-limited out of office.
“They’re saying it should be done hopefully by the end of the year,” Cohen said, “I mean, it has been a long time coming.”
Acme Skillman Concrete Co., of Maspeth, will replace three half-basketball courts with one full court while adding a skate bowl.
“It’s just sort of reflective of modern uses of the park,” Cohen said. “I planned another one in another part of the district because young people came to me and said this is what they want.”
The design was submitted to the public design commission in 2014, with a project completion date sometime in 2016. Now that we’re in Spring 2017, work has only just begun.
“I am hoping from this point forward it goes smoothly,” Cohen said. “It does point to how difficult it is to get these projects completed.”
It is often so difficult to get capital projects completed, Cohen said, that he has even introduced legislation to increase accountability for city agencies that don’t complete a project in time, or go over budget.
The capital projects bill would force city agencies to report to community boards when projects like park construction, school renovation or even stoplight installations are running over schedule — or more importantly, over budget.
“The frustrations are getting these capital projects together, or done,” Cohen said. “I want to put shovels in the ground and cut ribbons, but I want the community to benefit.”
Relative to the bill, a report released recently by the Center for Urban Future found library and cultural projects in New York often cost twice as much as office building constructions.
It also found the average time it took to complete projects on libraries and cultural centers was more than four years.
Cohen hopes the bill will result in a greater sense of urgency on the part of city agencies that don’t want to report to communities when they are running late or spending more than their original budget.
“I am hoping agencies will bend over backwards to not report that they are late,” he said.