PS 85 welcomes new learning garden in school playground

Photo by Rebecca Henely
By Rebecca Henely

Three Astoria schools now have gardens in their playgrounds in the latest project to come out of Con Edison’s $63 million settlement for the 2006 blackout.

PS 85 Judge Charles J. Vallone School — the final school to get a garden — administrators cut the ribbon on it last week. The greenspace features a wooden structure with garden beds and a small enclosure where students can sit that has a “green” roof with growing plants. The project also improved a garden bed in a stone structure already installed in the playground and added an outdoor composting unit.

“It gives the children a chance to learn about nature and the environment but also see how beautiful it is and grow as learners,” said PS 85 Principal Ann Gordon-Chang.

PS 85 is at 23-70 31st St. in Astoria.

In summer 2006, a massive blackout left parts of Astoria, Long Island City, Sunnyside and Woodside without power, with some residents unable to turn their lights on again for as long as 10 days. Many businesses lost millions of dollars in revenue, spoiled goods and broken equipment.

Con Edison eventually agreed to a $63 million settlement in 2008 that included $17 million in funds to benefit the community, $3 million of which were used to support environmental improvement projects in western Queens.

“One of the main goals of that grant is to make that community greener and cooler,” said Pam Ito, director of children’s education for the Horticultural Society of New York.

Through the Greening Western Queens Fund, the Horticultural Society created the garden at PS 85 in partnership with Garden Works, an Astoria landscaper. Garden Works got involved because owner Sal Bacarella attended PS 85 as a child recently arrived from Sicily.

“When I was at school we didn’t have anything like this,” Bacarella said. “This school holds a special place in my heart.”

Ashley Cruce, of the Horticultural Society, who was the project manager of PS 85’s garden with Ito, said the garden features perennial plants, which come back every year, and annuals, which live for about a year before dying. The garden grows herbs and grasses in addition to flowers. Through the Greening Western Queens Fund, Cruce will be teaching classes about the garden to the children for 10 weeks.

“You’re gonna learn all new plants in this garden,” Cruce told about 40 students at the ribbon-cutting.

The other gardens were previously built at two other Astoria schools: PS 2, at 75-10 21st Ave., and PS 70, at 30-45 42nd St. Ito said the gardens cost a collective $222,000.

City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) said the students at all schools really enjoyed the “landscaped oasis” in their playground.

“You can really see the happiness in kids’ faces as they come out to all the gardens,” he said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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