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THE COURIER/Photos by Angela Matua
THE COURIER/Photos by Angela Matua

Students, faculty and elected officials gathered in front of the early childhood center at P.S./I.S. 78 in Long Island City on Friday to celebrate the opening of a new playground for pre-K, kindergarten and first grade students.

The playground, which took five and a half years to make a reality, will act as an alternative site to Gantry Plaza State Park. Students were previously escorted to the state park across the street, but some parents were concerned about their children crossing Center Boulevard.

Residents have continuously rallied for crosswalks and stop signs along the boulevard to curb the increasing number of cars and pedestrians traversing the area.

“Someone asked me why it was so important to have this space when there’s a park right across the street,” said Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer. “It’s true that we have a park right across the street, but that street is one of the most dangerous streets that we have and why should the children, 4- and 5-year-olds from this school, have to cross this street to get to a playground? They shouldn’t have to.”

Van Bramer secured $350,000 for the construction of the playground and, with the help of Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan and School Construction Authority President and CEO Lorraine Grillo, was able to resolve a dispute over who owned the property. Citylights is the official property owner.

Students from the middle school were invited to explore the new playground and quickly gravitated toward the many features after the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Acadia Helfand, 10, knows that the playground is for younger children but is hopeful that fifth-graders will get a chance to enjoy the park as well.

“I hope that on some days we can come in and just hang out and play around like we are right now,” Helfand said. “I really like the spinning circle thing.”

Christie Alexander, a mother of a 4-year-old kindergartner at the school said she is glad that her daughter will not have to cross Center Boulevard to get her exercise.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Alexander said. “I know the teachers are really careful about [crossing the street] but it was still really nerve-wracking.”

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