By Naeisha Rose
At Merrick Academy, a charter school in Springfield Gardens, a playground was built in six hours by more than 200 volunteers from the non-profit KaBoom!, Delta Airlines’ employees, parents and teachers from the school.
But the biggest surprise came from City Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Far Rockaway) and the airline’s vice president for airport operations at Kennedy, Stephanie Baldwin, who donated money to the school after construction was finished.
“I’m in a Delta KaBoom spirit right now,” said Richards, “so I’m going to pledge $500,000 to this school.”
Although Delta’s donation may not have been as big as the councilman’s, it was just as meaningful.
“This is something that our children – your children will have for years to come,” said Baldwin. “We can’t compete with the councilman, but we do have a little surprise,” added the vice president who revealed a $10,000 check for the upkeep of the playground.
The project at Merrick Academy was over a year in the making and was the brainchild of the school’s former principal, Dr. Karen Valburn, who got in touch with the non-profit KaBoom! about building a playground, according to Daren Johnson, the school’s registrar who helped to carry out the initiative.
In 2000, Merrick Academy became the first charter school in Queens and was originally located in Jamaica, but moved to Springfield Gardens to 136-25 218 St. due to space constraints and the desire for a gymnasium for the students, according to Johnson.
The property the school rents from Saint Mary Magdalene Roman Catholic Church, which is beside it, was a Sunday school that had a playground for toddlers, but the children at Merrick Academy are kindergarten to fifth-grade students.
“I researched what [KaBoom! does], prepared a proposal, we passed the first stage, and there were some interviews,” said Johnson about the process involved in upgrading the playground. “We just wanted something age-appropriate for the kids.”
KaBoom! is a national non-profit dedicated to making sure kids live an active lifestyle and it does that by identifying areas lacking playgrounds and partnering with organizations like Delta to fund those type of projects.
“We saw that they had a really small playground here – not for the age range, so now we are here building it,” said KaBoom! Associate Project Manager Derrick Dixon. “Eight weeks ago I came out here and talked to the kids at Merrick Academy and they drew their dream playground and we took those ideas, talked to the adults and we took the components and it’s going to be how the kids and adults want it.”
It took eight weeks for KaBoom!, Delta Airlines and Merrick Academy to pre-plan the construction of the June 23 project, which required 160 pounds of concrete for the 200 cubic yard playground, according to volunteers at the event.
As the volunteers labored on building a jungle gym with a slide, artwork and a mural, which will also come with new play equipment, the children enjoyed cotton candy, had their faces painted and played with balloon animals.
“I think it’s going to be amazing,” said Zoey Shury, 9.
Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose