Snow Closes 'Dangerous' UWS Playground to Students During Recess

By Emily Frost on December 19, 2013 10:18am 

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 The playground has had a new design approved but the Public Design Commission has delayed approving it. 
P.S. 166 Playground Closed
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UPPER WEST SIDE — While the recent snowstorms meant hours of fun for many kids, for P.S. 166 students it ushered in a series of long school days with no outdoor time.

The elementary school's playground has been closed for recess since Monday due to icy conditions and is not expected to reopen anytime soon, parents said. 

"We've got to give our kids some air and exercise," said Emma Cipriano, who has a first- and third-grader at the school.

"As a result of the design and condition of our school yard, our children are deprived of much-needed outdoor play time during their rigorous school day," added another parent, Stefanie Goldblatt. 

The issue stems from a monthslong battle involving parents and city agencies over a planned redesign of the "dangerous" playground, which has been blamed for a host of injuries including concussions and broken bones.

Currently, Belgian blocks create a large slope in the middle of the playground that some parents have argued is a tripping hazard. Other parents have said that if the blocks were better maintained, the playground would be safer and a redesign would not be required.

In the winter, snow and ice get lodged between and on top of the blocks, making them hard to clear after big storm and forcing the school to close the playground during recess. In 2011, the playground was closed for two months due to snow and ice conditions, parents said.

A $600,000 renovation of the playground — paid for by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and City Councilwoman Gale Brewer — was approved nearly six months ago, but work hasn't begun as the redesign awaits approval by the city's Public Design Commission.

However, a review of the plans is not scheduled on the agency's calendar for any future public meetings, and neither the commission nor the Parks Department have responded to repeated request for comments regarding the holdup.

The school also did not return requests for comment on the closure.

On Wednesday afternoon, a few parent volunteers gathered in the playground with brooms and picks to try to clear away some of the icy conditions keeping their kids off the grounds. The park is open for neighborhood play after school, the Parks Department confirmed, but reserved only for students during school hours. The school made the decision to close it to kids during recess since it has exclusive use of the space during the day, parents said.

"The Parks Department did clear it, but it's not sufficient for playing. People will slip and fall," said Cipriano, noting she was hopeful it wouldn't snow over the Christmas break so there is a better chance the playground can reopen at the beginning of the new year.

"All of the cobblestones are iced over," she added. "The way the playground is laid out, there's no way to clear it."

In response, she and other parents are welcoming any volunteer efforts by neighbors and parents to help chip away at the frozen slope.

One parent even joked that the cleanup effort was like a "winter boot camp."

Cipriano said she'd heard that most school yards at nearby schools remained open despite the snow. Schools like P.S. 87 and P.S. 452 have flat blacktop layouts that some parents argued are easier to quickly plow.

District 3 Community Education Council President Joe Fiordaliso has already written to Alicia West, the director of capital projects at the Design Commission, and Steve Simon, chief of staff for the Parks Department in Manhattan, requesting they attend a Jan. 15 CEC meeting to explain the redesign delay.

"Many features of the PS166 playground are unsafe and have caused serious injuries to our children," Fiordaliso wrote in a Dec. 17 letter. "CEC3 is extremely concerned that no action has been undertaken to ameliorate the dangerous conditions at this playground."

West and Simon have not yet confirmed whether they will attend, Fiordaliso said.

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