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

A parent of a student at a Little Neck public school is leading the charge in keeping the school’s playground open to the public.

Next week, the schoolyard at P.S. 221 will officially open less than five months after the official groundbreaking ceremony. Despite the joyous occasion, Adriana Aviles started a petition against the Department of Education, which she said broke a promise to keep the playground open during the summer and weekends.

Aviles started the petition after presenting her concerns at the Oct. 7 Community Board 11 meeting. The petition has garnered 204 signatures since Aviles started it on Oct. 12.

According to Aviles, the DOE promised that the public could access the playground during “off hours” under former Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC Schoolyards to Playgrounds initiative. The $111 million investment would apply to 290 school playgrounds citywide as part of Bloomberg’s goal of “having every New Yorker live within a 10-minute walk of a park or playground.”

But according to a spokesperson for the Trust for Public Land, which works to upgrade school playgrounds, the DOE lacks funding to pay staff members that would supervise the space when school is not in session.

“When the park opens this Monday, it will be open to the public after school from 2:35 to dusk on weekdays. School custodians are needed to open and close the yards during ‘off-hours.’ These staff members are paid by the Department of Education, so The Trust for Public Land is currently working with city officials to secure additional funding to keep the park open during non-school hours,” said the spokesperson.

“This new playground will be a wonderful asset to the students and families of PS 221, and we’re having conversations with members of the school community to understand their concerns. This playground is not part of the Schoolyards to Playgrounds program,” added DOE spokesperson Isabelle Boundy.

Aviles said that the head of the custodians at P.S. 221 received a phone call confirming that there was no money allotted to keep the schoolyard open during after school hours. She approached the school’s principal, who said that the playground would only be open until 5:30 p.m. when the after school program lets out.

“She said nothing else about weekends or holidays, so that’s what we’re fighting for now,” Aviles said. “I worked for the city for over 20 years, so I know the city makes promises which they don’t keep.”

The playground is set to officially open on Monday, Oct. 21, and Aviles said she plans to deliver the petition to Queens Borough President Melinda Katz. For now, she continues to collect signatures with the help of her local Girl Scout Troop 4025. Members of the troop, including her daughter Anastasia Aviles, are P.S. 221 graduates.

Troop members collected more than 100 signatures and shared that they were upset they would not be able to enjoy their alma mater’s schoolyard, which includes new trees, a turf field, a running track, play equipment and game tables.

Troop 4025 members and M.S. 67 students Anastasia Aviles, Janisa Wu, Marina Lombardi, Vanessa Mulhall and Keira Sheridan collect signatures to keep their alma mater’s playground open

Aviles said that other local schools like P.S. 98 have playgrounds that are part of the Schoolyards to Playgrounds program and said that P.S. 221 should be included.

“Just the things that Trust for Public Land put in there are such beautiful examples of how we should be eco-friendly,” she said.

She added that the public playgrounds available to the community near P.S. 221 are just “cement spaces.”

“They really aren’t structurally defined for the children to play, to run, to play soccer, there’s no nets. There’s nothing really worth it for the neighborhood and the community to say, ‘This is a beautiful park where we could sit and enjoy and read in the gazebo and enjoy some family time or some friendship time,'” Aviles said.

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