St. Catherine’s Park $9M Overhaul Will Include New Pickleball Courts and New Elephant Sprinklers

A $9 million overhaul of historic St Catherine’s Park will bring new play and fitness equipment, pickleball courts, water fountains, and more, though construction is not slated to start until 2025 at the earliest.

| 13 May 2024 | 04:02

104-year-old St. Catherine’s Park is getting a $9 million makeover with an updated play area, refurbished furniture, new water fountains and its first-ever formalized pickleball courts, but the overhaul won’t start until 2025.

The plans for its reconstruction were presented on May 9 by Chris Crowley, a parks department landscape architect, during a Community Board 8 meeting. Crowley was also involved when St. Catherine’s Park was last updated over two decades ago: the east side in 1999 and the west side 2004.

This time, the park’s reconstruction will update the safety and accessibility standards in its play, fitness, multi-use games and seating areas, while maintaining its existing layout and historic references.

St. Catherine’s Park, first built in 1917, bears the namesake of the nearby St. Catherine of Siena Church. The park’s layout and paving pattern mimic details in Santa Maria sopra Minerva, the church in Rome where the remains of Saint Catherine of Siena are buried, said Crowley. The two elephant sprinklers in the water play area reference an elephant sculpture that sits outside of the church. All of these design elements will be preserved in the reconstruction, according to the project plans.

On the east side of the park, the playground equipment will be replaced and surrounded by new safety surfaces; a new sprinkler will be added to the water play area, and the existing, much-beloved elephant sprinklers will be replaced with new, identical ones. The seating furniture will be refurbished and altered to be ADA-compliant, new trash receptacles will be installed, and there will be a new bi-level water fountain.

In the west side multi-use games and fitness area, which is used as a schoolyard by the adjacent Julia Richman Education Complex and closed to the public when school is in session, the courts will be refurbished and the fitness equipment will be replaced. At the schools’ request, according to Crowley, four pickleball courts will be painted onto the multi-use area, which is currently used for basketball, handball, soccer and kickball. A water fountain with a bottle filler will be installed nearby.

In the last two decades, Crowley noted, rules at the parks department have changed, and the park’s perimeter fence will be lowered to a height of 4 feet from the sidewalk. Several meeting attendees expressed concern about the change, noting that a shorter fence may be easier to climb over, enabling off-hours access to the park, and potentially, the setting up of unauthorized encampments. The fencing will have sharp points along the top, which would discourage that behavior, responded Tricia Shimamura, the Manhattan Borough Commissioner for the Parks Department.

The reconstruction project has a $9 million budget, with $4.85 million from the mayor, $590,000 from city council, and $3.6 million from private corporations, including the New York Blood Center. An additional $250,000 is needed for renovating the park’s comfort station, though the funding and construction timeframes for that project are still unclear, according to parks officials who spoke at the meeting.

Community Board 8’s parks committee passed a resolution in support of the park’s redesign, while noting concern about the height of the perimeter fence and about making the park’s sundial sculpture less accessible to children who would otherwise attempt to climb it.

The reconstruction process is estimated to take a full year, and a start date in the summer of 2025 is the “best case scenario,” said Crowley. However, with the bidding and procurement process, it is more likely to begin near the end of 2025, or the spring of 2026.