Photos by Jenna Bagcal/QNS
From left: Councilman Barry Grodenchik, Principal Patricia Bullard, NYC Playgrounds Program Director Mary Alice Lee, Director of Education at the Office of the Queens Borough President Monica Gutierrez, DEP Commissioner Vincent Sapienza and NYS Director for The Trust for Public Land Carter Strickland with P.S. 221 students

Imagine a school playground designed by kids, for kids. One Little Neck public school and a nonprofit organization have made that dream a reality for hundreds of students.

On May 28, the P.S. 221 The North Hills School community broke ground on the community playground at 57-40 Marathon Pkwy. The students and community began thinking of playground designs to transform the school’s asphalt yards over a year ago and voted on the designs that would eventually become their shared space.

Plans for the playground will include a synthetic turf field surrounded by a three-lane running track, areas to play volleyball and basketball, a junior tennis court, benches, trees, play equipment and an outdoor classroom.

“When I first came here, one of the things I do is I look at every single playground,” recalled Councilman Barry Grodenchik. “Ms. Boullard and I were standing somewhere over there, I think on the second or third floor, and I said to her, ‘Where is the playground?’ And she said to me, ‘I’m looking at it.’ So I said, ‘ This is not going to do. This is not a playground; this is a lot of asphalt.'”

Izabella Kohan with Principal Patricia Bullard

Soon after, students including fifth-grade student Izabella Kohan got to work on designing a state-of-the-art playground for the current and future P.S. 221 community. Kohan and other student designers helped to plan the project as part of Trust for Public Land’s NYC Playgrounds Program. Since the program’s inception in 1996, the nonprofit has both designed and built 202 school and community playgrounds in the five boroughs.

“Being on the design team was a very fun and interesting experience for me,” said Kohan. “First, each and every design-team member got a booklet with questions on what the theme of the playground should be, what kind of play area should we have and so much more.”

Subsequent steps involved students creating concrete designs for the playground, measuring the available space choosing the furniture within a certain budget and creating small-scale models.

P.S. 221 students and teachers

“The design team members of P.S. 120 showed us what their finished playground looked like and we had a wonderful time there,” Kohan said. “Since we saw a lot of nice and creative ideas. We incorporated some of their ideas into ours.”

The Trust for Public Land collaborated with the Department of Education (DOE), Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the New York City School Construction Authority (SCA) on the student-designed project, which is set to open in fall 2019.

“Finally our vision of turning these three asphalt yards into a wonderful, eco-friendly, beautiful new playground has become a reality,” said P.S. 221 Principal Patricia Bullard. “Our whole community, my students, staff, our parents and the community at large is eagerly anticipating all that this new playground has to offer us.”

Councilman Grodenchik, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and DEP provided public project funding.

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