A Long Island City elementary school is celebrating the transformation of a barren lot into a state-of-the-art playground - that students played a big role in designing.
The new P.S. 85 playground, which opened on Wednesday September 19, features a junior basketball court, stage, artificial turf field, rock climbing wall and a jungle gym. In addition, there is an outdoor classroom, greenhouse and garden where basil, cherry tomato and oregano plants already are growing.
“Our children will learn through integrating science as well as physical education so that they will grow holistically, not just physically,” said P.S. 85 Principal Ann Gordon Chang.
The one-acre space was chosen for the $660,000 park because the 31st Street school is in a high-density, low-income neighborhood and because the school and community were willing to participate in the planning process, said Susan Clark, a Trust for Public Land (TPL) spokesperson.
Students at P.S. 85, also known as the Judge Charles J. Vallone School, met once a week for three months with architects, playground equipment manufacturers and TPL officials to sketch out the park plan.
The playground is the 12th of 25 planned parks created through City Spaces, a partnership of the city’s Department of Education, School Construction Authority and the TPL. The city gives $2 for every $1 the TPL raises.
The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, a group formed in 1999 that uses its endowment to address issues facing children living in urban poverty, donated the private funding for this project.
“This is all about everyone working together to take care of this space just like they worked together on the design,” said Andy Stone, New York City Program Director of the TPL. “That’s what we see as a hallmark of this coming movement to transform schoolyards.”
The park is in the 22nd Council District where only 133 acres - or roughly one-sixth of Central Park - is dedicated to parkland. That number is four percent of the district, compared to the citywide average of 14 percent, said Cheryl Huber, Director of Research for New Yorkers for Parks, a civic organization.
The district also is on the lower end of the city’s number of parks per resident ratio, ranking 31 out of 51. “This is definitely an area that’s in need,” Huber said.
City Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr., who represents the district, acknowledged that other areas could also use more park space.
“There are a lot of schools that are looking to have a playground like this and unfortunately not everyone can have them,” he said.
Though Vallone is the grandson of the late Judge Vallone, after whom the school is named, Clark said that was not a factor in selecting P.S. 85 for the park project.
Additional reporting by Emily Keller.