By Kathryn G. Menu
The Park and Recreation Association of Sag Harbor, the private, non-profit entity that runs Mashashimuet Park and oversees the maintenance and upkeep of Otter Pond, has applied for a $10,000 state grant to support fundraising efforts for its new playground. The board is applying for the grant through New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr.’s office.
“We want to bolster and help support what the community can offer to support us,” said board member Janine Rayano in a joint interview with a handful of members of the 13-member park board, which includes liaisons from the John Jermain Memorial Library Board, the Sag Harbor School District and Sag Harbor Village. According to Ms. Rayano, the board is also looking into the possibility of low-interest loans from local banks, and business sponsorships to help make the dream of a new playground for the children of Sag Harbor a reality.
In December of 2016, the Park and Recreation Association embarked on an ambitious $500,000 fundraising campaign to purchase a new playground designed by Leathers & Associates, with the aid of children from the Sag Harbor School District. To date, according to park board president Gregg Schiavoni, the association has raised just over $100,000. Revamping the park grounds, which largely have not changed for decades, would offer a safer and more enriching environment for children from Sag Harbor, and others who visit the region. By raising funds for the playground independently, Mr. Schiavoni said would not impact annual tax bills.
The park is a non-profit entity. It’s main source of funding — covering the salary of park manager Jeff Robinson and his assistant Tony Polito, year-round maintenance of the park’s numerous athletic fields, the playground, tennis courts and parking areas, and for the upkeep of Otter Pond and surrounding grounds — is its contract with the Sag Harbor School District. This year’s contract between the school district and the park is for $200,000, up from $179,000 for the last school year. The school district funding makes up a little more than half of the park’s annual budget, with revenues from the park’s tennis program, rental income and donations making up the remainder of its budget.
In addition to hosting the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League, Little League, and Sag Harbor Soccer Club programs, the park is home to the Sag Harbor Park Tennis Program, directed by Steve Annacone. Children in the Sag Harbor School District and residents under the age of 17 can play for free on two all-weather hard courts, with memberships for district residents available for $50 and $100 for individuals and families, respectively.
Despite being a private entity that does not receive public funding outside of its contract with the school district, the park, Mr. Schiavoni said, is open to everyone.
“The mission of the park is to, of course, serve the children of Sag Harbor, but it is also open to the public,” he said. Otter Pond is also kept visible through a maintenance program approved by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
“The amount of money we have had to spend to keep that pond visible under the DEC parameters has been significant,” said board member Judith Lattanizio, whose grandfather once rented the house on the park’s grounds.
“But the beauty of Otter Pond is that you can see it,” added board member Kelly Kunzeman.
Now, the board is largely focused on raising funds for the playground. In the wake of criticism, Ms. Rayano said it has discussed the pros and cons becoming an elected body, but quickly discovered there would costs incurred as a result — for example creating an executive director position — that the board did not feel was financially sustainable. Other issues stem from the park not being fully funded by taxpayer dollars.
“But I think we do have a diverse park board, and we really want to keep this park in great shape,” she said.