Parents Push for $2 million Playground at O.A. Thorp Scholastic Academy

By Heather Cherone on February 11, 2013 2:46pm 

 The master plan developed by Urban Habitat Chicago for the playground and learning garden at O.A. Thorp Academy.
The master plan developed by Urban Habitat Chicago for the playground and learning garden at O.A. Thorp Academy.
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O.A. Thorp Academy

PORTAGE PARK — Parents and school officials want to transform the "barren asphalt landscape" that now surrounds O.A. Thorp Scholastic Academy into a state-of-the-art playground and learning garden.

"We want the campus to reflect the cutting edge instruction going on in the classrooms at O.A. Thorp," said Principal Efren Toledo. "We can do better than the barren asphalt landscape that we now have."

The $2 million plans call not only for a playground — complete with equipment designed for students in kindergarten and first grade as well as a separate area for second through fourth grade students — but also a grassy field for soccer and other sports, benches and an improved running track.

In addition, the master plan envisions a rain garden with natural plants and birdhouses to help students learn about science as well as natural play areas.

Friends of Thorp, a parent group that raises money to fund special projects at the selective-enrollment school on the Northwest Side, had been working for sometime to build a playground but was stymied by a lack of funds and support from the school's former principal, said board member Katie Madden.

"The kids need somewhere to play, especially since they now have recess," said Madden, whose children are in first grade and third grade at the school at 6024 W. Warwick Ave.

But Toledo, who is in his first year at O.A. Thorp, wanted to think bigger than a just playground.

"We have a whole city block," Toledo said.

After working with Urban Habitat Chicago at his previous school, Toledo asked the Irving Park-based firm to craft a master plan for the school's outdoor space.

The firm surveyed 200 students, parents, neighbors and community members and hosted a meeting on Jan. 26 to find out what they should be sure to include in the master plan.

Citing a $2 million price tag, Toledo said that the project is likely to be completed in phases.

"Whatever amount it takes, we will get there," "We want to be true to that vision."

 Students play in an empty field outside O.A. Thorp Academy.
Students play in an empty field outside O.A. Thorp Academy.
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DNAInfo/Heather Cherone

Toledo said he would ask the Chicago Public Schools officials to pick up part of the cost of the playground and other features as part of the district's commitment to provide play areas at every school.

O.A. Thorp is one of only three schools on the Northwest Side that do not have playgrounds, district records show.

In addition, proceeds from the annual Taste of Thorp fundraiser, set for March 1, will be set aside for the playground and campus park.

"We want it to be more welcoming for the children," Madden said. "This will be a good place to play."

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