Five-year-old Anna Dale enjoys cruising around the newly paved basketball court on her scooter and crawling through glimmering new monkey bars, but the fountains are her favorite part of the recently reopened Playground 123.
There, motion-activated sprinklers spray water in all directions, coming out of rocks, the ground, and a green leaf-shaped tower overhead.
The best part? “You can climb on the bridge,” Dale said, which crosses a stream of water that flows towards the drain.
Construction completed the $4 million playground in July and the park officially opened to the public last Wednesday. Construction started in August 2012 to replace the former playground, one surrounded by concrete and chain-link fences and filled with outdated play equipment.
Tia Dale, Anna’s mother, grew up in the area and remembers the old playground.
“It sucked,” she said. “They [the kids] thought it sucked too. There wasn’t a lot to do.”
It’s a far cry from what occupies the space now: an airy, wheelchair-friendly space featuring swings and slides for kids of all sizes. Green and brown walkways crisscross over plastic maracas and congas and panels with animal tracings. A plastic owl hides in a nearby tree. Climbing walls and double-helix-shaped staircases let children run up and down the structures quickly, as parents and family watch on new, nearby benches.
Zvi Epnen, who lives on 126th Street, said the presence of tall trees nearby means he and his daughter can stay in the park a lot longer without the threat of the sun’s heat.
“It’s well-shaded,” he said, “and there’s a good amount of toddler swings.”
Ashley Andrews, who was bringing her three-year-old daughter to the park, said that she appreciates the changes, noting that the renovations made the park safer.
“It has a lot of imaginative play stuff,” she said. “It’s nice to see a tire swing with a tire on it.”
Kristen Edepli, who lives on the West Side, just held her son’s sixth birthday party at the playground.
“I think it’s amazing,” she said. “It’s such an improvement. The kids, they love it.”
Although she was disappointed when the old playground closed just as she moved into the neighborhood, Edepli said she thinks the new playground will bring the community closer.
“Everybody comes here, which is also really nice,” she said.
According to the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation at the ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday, the playground redevelopment was inspired by the original 1887 plan of Morningside Park by Olmsted and Vaux, who also designed Central Park.
The $4 million budget was funded by allocations from District 9, the Borough of Manhattan, and the City. Friends of Morningside Park also donated to the project.
Brad Taylor, president of Friends of Morningside Park, said earlier this year the playground renovation was only the first of two phases, though the second phase has yet to receive funding.
“More people could come, bringing their kids, without having to worry,” Andrews’ husband, Dewey, said. “It brings the community together.”