2003-10-24 / Community

Springtime Set For Opening of Rockaway Tribute Park

Springtime Set For Opening of Rockaway Tribute Park

Local Sculptor Izebella Slobodoff and an aide working on Firefighter’s Memorial. Site will not be open until Spring.Local Sculptor Izebella Slobodoff and an aide working on Firefighter’s Memorial. Site will not be open until Spring.

It is obvious to all who pass by on Beach Channel Drive at Beach 116 Street, that the construction of Rockaway’s Tribute Park is well underway.

This project is perhaps the largest collaboration of Federal, State and City agencies, organizations and volunteer efforts undertaken in Rockaway. "Everyone is working together to make sure that this Park is constructed correctly and in a way that will guarantee it will be here for many years to come," states Chamber President John Lepore. "This project is very close to our hearts and to many others who continue to assist us."

At the present time, the electric lines are being installed underground as is the foundation for the glass dome, which will bear the names of those we lost on September 11, 2001. Isabella Slobodoff, a world-renown sculptress and Rockaway resident, has begun work on the NYFD helmet, which will be at the top of the firefighter’s tribute at the far end of the park. The foundation for the main installation, the "Heavens Over Rockaway" artwork selected by the Rockaway community, is underway as are the dome itself and mosaic floor – the latter two in artist Patrick Clark’s studio. The commemorative bricks have arrived and are currently being stored until their installation during the next few weeks. All of the lighting fixtures, an incredibly generous donation made possible through FPL Energy, have also now arrived and a await installation.

After appropriate tests and borings, it was determined that the soil currently in the Tribute Park property is too rocky and unsuitable for planting, so new soil has been ordered and will be placed to a depth of 24 inches in the areas to be landscaped. The addition of this new soil will make it possible for trees, shrubs and other plants to succeed in this particularly vulnerable environment. Local horticulturist, Nadia Murphy, has been working on the landscaping, design and selection of the plantings to be included in the park and agrees that the plantings will have a much better chance to succeed if planted in the spring. "It’s going to be a very beautiful place to come," says Murphy, "and we have worked very hard to make sure that all the flowers, shrubs and trees compliment the natural beauty of the area."

Once the pathways have been constructed (utilizing more than 27,000 bricks), the benches will be installed and secured. "We anticipate that all of these phases of the construction will be complete before the end of the year," explains Liz Sulik, Executive Director of the Chamber, "…of course, weather permitting." "Each phase of the construction is exciting but brings with it its own set of challenges which must be met. The Parks Department continues to be very cooperative and is working closely with us as we move forward." Both Lepore and Sulik are always quick to point out the many contractors, laborers and individuals who have volunteered their expertise and services from the design phase on. "It is as if helping bring this project to reality has become a personal mission for so many," relates Lepore.

Given the current progress and anticipating that further weather delays will most likely occur, the Park will be dedicated in the spring. The Chamber was very optimistic at the beginning of the summer that an October 2003 dedication would be possible, but now feels the wisest decision is to wait and dedicate the Park when it is totally complete and the plantings have been installed. "We want the park to be beautiful at its dedication." comments Sulik. "Anything less is just not acceptable."

Community Board 14 District Manager Jonathon Gaska, who also chairs the community committee on the tribute park, agrees.

"This delay makes a lot of sense," Gaska says. "Let’s do it right the first time."

Because of these unforeseen construction delays, the Chamber is now able to offer another opportunity to purchase commemorative bricks to those who missed the original deadline date and to others. These newly purchased bricks will be slated for a spring installation. There are also still benches available for purchase and anyone interested in making a donation or purchasing bricks and/or benches may do so by contacting the Chamber of Commerce/Rockaway Partnership.

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