By Scott Etkin
Riverside Park’s Dinosaur Playground (between 96th and 98th Streets), a favorite among children for its climbable fiberglass triceratops and hadrosaur, has seen better days – parts of the north side of the 1.1 acre playground have been closed off due to a sinkhole caused by Hurricane Ida in September 2021. But the playground is on the path to receiving an $8.6 million renovation, and this week, Community Board 7’s Parks & Environment Committee unanimously approved the proposed plans.
The construction project is intended to fix damage from past heavy rainfall, make the area more resilient to future storms, improve ADA access and sightlines for caretakers to keep an eye on kids, and add new dino-themed structures for playing.
The renovation will repair damaged areas – such as the granite curb, stairs, and bluestone paver landings – as well as install a taller fence to replace the existing low railing, along which the sprinklers are located. The designs also call for new features throughout the site, such as rain gardens, to make it less prone to flooding. Permeable surfaces will be increased from 16 percent to 35 percent of the area.
The proposed designs by landscape architecture firm Starr Whitehouse also showcased new water features and climbing apparatus. A concept that’s still in progress shows a T-Rex head and white semi circles that stick out of the ground to resemble bones. The longtime original dino statues will also likely be refreshed in the update. “We’re actually in talks with the original sculptor to find a fabricator to refinish and reuse them,” said Ryan Castro, Associate at Starr Whitehouse, during the CB7 meeting. The plans also call for removing the two sandboxes.
Construction on the project is expected to start in 2025. The plan accounts for 14 months of design (which has already begun), then three to six months of bidding, followed by a year of construction. The project’s budget receives funding from three sources: Mayor Eric Adams ($1 million), Council Member Gale Brewer ($5.9 million), and FEMA ($1.76 million).
To inform the designs, Starr Whitehouse held a public meeting this summer and received comments from 40 community members and elected officials.
The playground and the restrooms nearby were built in the 1930s as part of city planner Robert Moses’s West Side Improvement Project. The bathrooms are not in scope for this project.
The renovation will again be raised for a vote at the next full Community Board 7 meeting on November 6th. The designs will then be presented to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, because Riverside Park, from 72nd Street to 125th Street, was designated a historic landmark in 1980.