Thursday, September 4, 2008

Group Builds New Playgrounds at Two Elementary Schools

Out2Play Upgrades Equipment at PS 81 and PS 153

By Conor Greene

Children at two local schools will have brand new playground equipment to keep them active during recess this year, as part of an effort by a non-profit group to ensure that every city school features room for students to get exercise.

New playgrounds at PS 153 in Maspeth and PS 81 in Ridgewood have been completed in time for the school year, according to Andrea Wenner, founder of Out2Play. The organization, launched three years ago, transforms empty asphalt lots adjacent to schools into playgrounds and has turned its attention to Queens for the first time.

“When I first started it, we surveyed all of the elementary schools in the city and found that close to 300 didn’t have playgrounds,” said Wenner. “They had the space, which was just an empty lot sitting there, and the kids would go outside and just stand around and not be especially active while out there.”

Wenner’s vision was launched while she was in business school at Columbia University, after working with a group that rebuilds high school athletic fields as part of a public-private partnership.

“I used to live near an elementary school that didn’t have a playground and thought, ‘why not do the same thing at the elementary level,’” she recalled. “I initially thought it was a space issue, so my first vision was to build playgrounds on rooftops of schools. I realized that a lot of schools did have space at ground level, which made it infinitely easier.”

Out2Play uses a combination of public and private funding, with money coming from city council members, borough presidents, residents, foundations and corporate sponsors. The organization works with the individual school on a specific design for the playground, and then hires the contractor and manages the project until completion.

“The only thing the schools are responsible for once it’s done is maintaining the playground,” said Wenner. “Of course, we also want their input for the design.”

By the end of the fall, Wenner expects that Out2Play will have overseen the construction or refurbishment of playgrounds at 40 schools citywide over the past three years. Her goal is to install playgrounds at 160 schools by 2011, leaving her with about 120 to go. Last year, the group built 14 playgrounds in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan using $2.5 million. This year, it is working on 26 playgrounds using about $5.5 million.

“At the very outset we focused on the Bronx and got traction there,” said Wenner. “We then made a push to make it a citywide program and expanded to all five boroughs this year.” It turns out that the need has been greatest in the Bronx and Brooklyn, as many schools in Queens already have playgrounds, according to Wenner.

However, Wenner still recognized the need for playgrounds at some schools in Queens, and decided to include PS 153 and PS 81 in her effort to bring Out2Play citywide. “We got a lot of support from Helen Marshall and worked with her office to take a look at different schools in Queens that needed playgrounds,” she said.

The project at PS 81 includes upgrades to the large yard behind the main school building at 559 Cypress Avenue and installation of a metal play structure behind the annex building on Seneca Avenue, according to Wenner. Work there is expected to be completed by the end of this week and includes slides, climbers, trees, benches, chess tables and blacktop games such as hopscotch, four-square and volleyball.

The project at PS 153, located on 60th Lane, was finished last week. Along with slides, climbers, trees, benches and blacktop games, the playground there features a rock climbing wall.

“Our goal is to make sure that every elementary school in the city that needs a playground gets one,” said Wenner. “We’re looking for all the support we can get to achieve our goal, both from public and private [sources]. People always assume it is a space issue when they hear that schools don’t have a playground, but the fact is the majority of those schools do have some sort of outdoor space that hasn’t been developed into anything usable as far as a playground.”

For more information about the organization, check

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