Park stairs repair to cost $2 million

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Steps leading to soccer field at 102nd Street have been fenced off since 2015


  • Stairs leading to the Riverside Park soccer field at the level of about 102nd Street have been fenced off since 2015. Repairs will take another three years. Photo: Richard Khavkine

  • Repairs of the stairs leading to the Riverside Park soccer field at the level of about 102nd Street will cost about $2 million and take three years. Photo: Richard Khavkine

Repairs to the steps leading to a Riverside Park soccer field have been budgeted at just over $2 million but will not be completed until 2021, according to city Parks and the Riverside Park Conservancy.

That amount is roughly twice an initial estimate from June 2015, shortly after the steps, at the level of 102nd Street off the park promenade under which is an Amtrak train tunnel, were fenced off while both the Conservancy and the city sought funds for repairs.

According to the Parks Department, Council Member Helen Rosenthal contributed $800,000 from her discretionary capital fund, Borough President Gale Brewer's office contributed $550,000 and Mayor Bill de Blasio's, $700,000. A parks spokeswoman said the project is now fully funded.

Should the repairs follow a typical capital project process, the design phase will take 12 months; procurement, nine months; and construction, 12 to 18 months, the spokeswoman, Crystal Howard, said.

Once project details are fleshed out, likely within a few months, residents will have an opportunity to review and comment on it, Rosenthal's spokeswoman, Sarah Crean, said, adding that the project is now fully under the sponsorship of the Parks Department.

“Parks has made a commitment to the project and will be able to see it through to the end,” Crean said. “It's not floating out there.”

Howard said a preliminary site investigation will start later this month, with the design phase expected to begin in the fall. She said the project was initially estimated at $1.2 million, while other estimates had put the figure at roughly $500,000.

“The estimate increased because of a reevaluation of the complexity of the project, the difficulty in doing construction at this location, and normal cost escalation,” Howard wrote in an email. She also said an uptick in construction had driven up bid prices.

"Initially we thought the bluestone pavers had just come loose, and needed to be reset," Howard wrote. "Then we concluded the underlying slab needs to be replaced, which is a much larger undertaking. This staircase is not built like a typical staircase — built on footings. It is a slab of concrete hanging over an enormous open void."

John Herrold, the current park administrator and until recently the Conservancy's president and CEO, referred inquiries to the city Parks Department.

Since the stairs were fenced off more than three years ago, the entrance at the southwest end of the park is now the only practicable entry to the turf field, which is on the park's lower level and is used by several youth leagues nearly year-around. During weekends, practices and games take place throughout the day.

A $1.4 million field house is also being built under the stairs.

The gate to the stairway was closed in early 2015 after several long flagstone steps loosened. Workers then discovered a hole through one of the landings. Cyclone fencing has surrounded the gate since then.

Youngsters nevertheless scamper around the fencing, climb along a retaining wall about 15 feet high and then around anti-climbing iron spikes.

Charles McKinney, the Riverside Park administrator from 1984 until 2001 as well as a former city Parks Department chief of design, said the steps deteriorated because of salt used to melt ice during the winter months.

But that remedy, while quick and easy, he said, is ultimately destructive of concrete, which he said is proving endemic throughout the parks system and of transportation infrastructure.

“The use of salt, because it is very effective and cheap, has a cost that is many times greater than the savings, as it is inevitable that the concrete will be dissolved and have to be replaced,” McKinney said by email.

But the use of salt, and its ultimate corrosion of concrete, McKinney said, is an example of quick-fixes and cut-rate budgeting of care and repair that will ultimately prove costly.

“There is a need for the Parks Department to evaluate how its bare bones funding of parks maintenance is contributing to the degradation of its masonry structures, landscapes, and architecture. I think that there is a need for rebalancing how the funding for citywide park operations is allocated, with a focus on funding skilled maintenance personnel, rather than administration,” he said.

In a recent report by the Center for an Urban Future, he recommended swift masonry repairs by contractually dedicated crews to “eliminate the need for more expensive capital projects.”

That report, out last month, says that Parks “has no formal system of maintenance for streets, sidewalks, or stairs.” McKinney said a “systematic stair repair” routine is vital.

“You could fund work throughout the system for the same cost as this one capital project,” he said in the email.

Richard Khavkine:

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