The playground at Jerry Burrell Park is so rarely used by children that a group of men have turned it into their personal gym.
They do pull-ups on the monkey bars and push-ups on the slides, while the swings sit empty and the preschooler-sized merry-go-round gathers dust.
The park has been like this for years, the long silence broken only when organizations run special events for children.
The rest of the time it is notorious as a drug-dealer hangout.
Now residents are demanding changes to make their park a place where children would love to play.
A neighborhood association has organized more than 150 residents to push for improvements to the park, and they’ve convinced City Council members Barbara Blanchard and Joseph Allen to join their cause.
The only trouble is that any improvements cost money.
“There is no new equipment in the ’08 budget,” Commissioner of General Services Carl Olsen said.
In response to a petition, he plans to move some playground equipment from Central Park to Jerry Burrell Park when the handicap-accessible playground is built at Central Park this summer.
He has no funding for other equipment, but he’s not going to let that stop him. He’ll use his materials budget to buy steel and wood and have his workers build benches, tables and a larger pavilion.
“Our heavy operating equipment engineers can build just about anything,” he said.
For $7,500, he said he will probably have enough steel to expand the park pavilion, which is currently only large enough to cover two picnic tables.
“We can make it three times as big,” Olsen said. “And we’ll do detail work at the corners so it won’t look like something you park a boat in … hopefully I can make it look a little better.”
The expansion would provide enough covered seating for all of the children who eat at the park during the summer lunch program, he said.
Olsen is hoping his crew can build benches as well, and plant trees nearby for shade. There’s only one bench in the park now, and it doesn’t have a back to lean against.
“People could sit outside and watch their children on a bench under a tree; that would be nice,” Olsen said.
Blanchard is happy with the proposed improvements, but they aren’t what residents want.
About 160 people signed a petition asking for a laundry list of changes, including unlocked bathrooms and a public water fountain.
Neither will happen, Olsen said.
The bathrooms are only unlocked during supervised, organized events at the park. Otherwise, “you’re asking for vandalism,” he said.
His workers believe they can install water fountains inside the bathrooms, but he won’t support putting up another fountain outside.
“[Former parks Director] Bill Seber tried many. The last one lasted two weeks. They’re very expensive and for some reason people like to break them,” he told Blanchard after she read the petition at Monday’s City Council committees meeting.
The petition also demanded safety measures to keep drug dealers and other criminals away from the park. Residents know a booming drug business goes on at night; each morning, there are dozens of empty plastic baggies scattered throughout the park, evidence of drugs measured out and then used.
As a crime deterrent, the lights on the basketball court will soon flash on at night if anyone walks through the park, thanks to motion detectors provided by Weed and Seed.
But residents want more. In their petition, they asked for the creation of a crime-free zone around the park and a regular police patrol nearby during park hours.
The petition was organized by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), which has a local office in Albany. The agency also pushed the city to repair street lights in the Hamilton Hill area earlier this year.
Blanchard said she was glad ACORN is now focusing on the park.
“It needs a lot and we’re going to just scratch the surface this year, but at least we’re paying attention to it, and I’m going to keep bringing it back,” she said. “Since Hamilton Hill has so little parkland, it should be really nice. I’m glad these ACORN people are pushing us because this really needs to get done.”