Will Vannie’s fields ever open up for play?


The scheduled reopening of the southern end of Van Cortlandt Park’s Parade Ground has been pushed back again — this time from fall 2011 to fall 2012 — because the grass needs to be reseeded.

The $15 million reconstruction of the 65-acre fields adjacent to Broadway began in 2008. The first stage of the project, which included reseeding and renovating baseball and soccer fields on the northern half of the Parade Ground, was completed last year. 

The second stage, which began before the first was completed and involves reseeding the cricket fields, was to be partially completed in April, when sections of the field were scheduled to reopen. The fields were supposed to be completely reopened in June.

But that deadline passed. 

A small section of the southern end of the field opened in July, but the majority of the area remained behind chain-link fences.

The grass was not “knitting” and crab grass needed to be pulled up and reseeded, according to the Department of Parks and Recreation. At the time, a Parks spokesperson said the anticipated completion would be in “late summer or early fall.”

That deadline, too, will be surpassed by at least a year. Parks also failed to inform members of the community of the latest delay, only alerting The Press to the change in response to an inquiry

 “Parks has asked the contractor to improve the fields, which still contain a significant amount of weeds and other disqualifying elements, in the southern portion of the Parade Ground before we can accept them,” a spokesperson for Parks wrote in an e-mail.

Parks said the contractor — William A. Gross Construction, which the department has worked with many times before — plans to reseed the fields this fall and spring.

Bob Bender, Community Board 8’s Parks and Recreation committee chair, said he was appalled to hear the news.

“This is the slowest growing grass in the history of horticulture,” he said. “I’m astonished by this. I’m simply astonished. I just can’t believe this.”

The grass is green and has looked that way for the entire summer, but Parks maintains that it is not what was asked for.

Cricket players said it doesn’t matter if it’s crab grass or the wrong grass. They can play on it anyway. 

“Cricket is not really played on the grass, but on the pitch,” said Milford Lewis, president of the New York Cricket League, which has a 94-year history of cricket in Vannie.

When the fences come down, the field will have 10 cricket fields. Two were opened in July, but Mr. Lewis said a fence interferes with play on one of them.

He said he expected to play cricket on the fields next season, which begins in April and ends in September. But the 60 to 70 teams that make up the New York Cricket League and the Commonwealth Cricket League will now not be allowed access for the third straight year. 

He said he had not been notified by Parks about the fences remaining in place through next season.

“There is a problem. There’s a very serious problem,” Mr. Lewis said, noting that baseball and soccer fields have been completely reopened.

“We’ve taken the brunt of the hit from the Parks Department,” he said.

The world-famous cross-country course in Vannie was also rerouted because of the reconstruction, causing the Heptagonal championship race — an Ivy League college championship — to find a new spot to race for the first time since 1947, according to Scottie Rodgers, associate executive director at the Ivy League Office.

Manhattan College has not hosted the NCAA regionals  in cross-country at the park since 2008, the year construction began.

The funds for the field renovation are part of mitigation money from the Croton Water Treatment Plant — a $3 billion water filtration plant being built in the southeastern corner of Van Cortlandt Park. Bronx parks received more than $240 million in exchange for residents putting up with the decade-long construction project, scheduled for completion in 2013.

As of January, 43 out of 72 construction projects funded by mitigation funds were completed, according to a presentation by Parks at a Croton Filtration Monitoring Committee meeting.