commons playground

The Commons Playground, still closed during a dreary afternoon last week.

The Commons Playground, a mainstay for children accompanying their families for downtown festivities, will remain closed for the foreseeable future as construction on the adjacent Harold’s Square project continues.

Construction on the project has been inconsistent during the last year or so. It seemed to be moving along well before a contract dispute between developers L Enterprises and construction firm Taylor, the Builders caused a month-long work stoppage at the start of 2019. When local construction firm LeChase was hired as replacements, there was hope that it would signal a smoother building experience and a firmer timeline.

But neighboring businesses have complained for a myriad of reasons, including the playground’s closing, the obstructive protective fencing that surrounds the project and disrupts sightlines, and some parking complaints. They aired their grievances at an open meeting with the development team in March, where the business owners chastised the developers for not being transparent with the project. To address those complaints, the idea of having dates set aside to temporarily open the playground, focusing on certain weekends when downtown activity is particularly high like Record Store Day and Ithaca Fest among others, was floated. Yet both events have now come and gone without removal of the green fence and canopy that now envelop the play structure and slide.

Vicki Taylor Brous, who has worked as the project’s spokesperson, referred questions about the playground’s availability to the city, though she did note that an updated timeline might be coming this week, as the project plans to hold its “last beam” ceremony on June 27, when the final beam will be placed atop the building before more construction continues. City Code Enforcement Officer Mike Niechwiadowicz said he’d be assessing the safety of reopening the playground on a continuing basis, but that at this point it looks unlikely that the playground would reopen until construction on the Commons-facing facade of the project is finished.

“The hope was that, by now, the construction would have reached the point where we could open the playground,” Niechwiadowicz said. “But unfortunately we had that change of contractors, and [...] from the developer’s side, that change put a stop to construction for a significant period of time that set everything back. I know the priority is to try to get that Commons facade tightened up so that playground can be open, but it’s not going to be until that happens.”

Niechwiadowicz said the city is essentially playing it by ear in terms of a timeline for the project and for the playground’s opening, but that they do want it open as soon as possible. The decision to reopen the playground will ultimately be made by the Code Enforcement office, in conjunction with the City Attorney’s office and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). He said once construction is finished, an in-depth assessment of the padding beneath the playground will take place to ensure that it is free of debris from the building.

“During construction, the fear is something might fall from the building,” Niechwiadowicz said. “But afterwards, if small nails, sharp pieces of metal, particles, fell on that matting [...] It’s one thing for adults walking with shoes. But for children to be playing, crawling, that type of thing on it, they could be easily hurt, cut, have something embedded in them. It’s not just simply taking down the enclosure. You’d have to thoroughly check that surface, make sure that there’s nothing on it. It’s more involved than simply just opening it up.”

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