PORTAGE PARK — O.A. Thorp Scholastic Academy will no longer be surrounded by a "barren asphalt landscape" thanks to a grant from KaBoom! to build a new playground on the east side of the school, school officials announced Wednesday.
Principal Efren Toledo said construction of the playground — set for Aug. 9, in time for school to open in the fall — was the first major step in implementing a $2 million master plan created more than a year ago.
"We're so excited our kids will finally have a place to play," said Toledo, who began working to transform what he called the "barren asphalt landscape" around the school when he started at the school nearly two years ago. "I definitely breathed a huge sigh of relief when I got the news."
Heather Cherone talks with DNAinfo Radio about Thorp Academy's new playground:
The KaBoom! grant, funded by Dr. Pepper and Snapple, will provide between $200,000 and $250,000 to build a playground for Thorp's 832 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, Toledo said.
Friends of Thorp, a parent group, has raised more than $50,000 to build a campus park around the Portage Park school at 6024 W. Warwick Ave. Along with a playground, plans call for 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.
"Our parents are amazing," Toledo said. "We are not a wealthy community, and what they have done is extraordinary."
Lisa Weisenberger, who led the application process for the KaBoom! grant, said a playground has been a long time coming for her daughter, who will start third grade in the fall, and her classmates at Thorp.
"I was nearly in tears I was so happy when I got the email from KaBoom!," Weisenberger said. "We tried so many different avenues."
Without the KaBoom! grant, Thorp students would have had to wait until 2018 for a playground to be built, according to Chicago Public Schools officials.
The school district will pay for the excavation and preparation of the playground site as well as a soft rubber surface for the playground, district officials said in a statement.
Thorp is the third CPS school to win a KaBoom! grant to build a playground in the last 1½ years, according to district officials.
Weisenberger said she was relieved students would no longer have to play on asphalt or rocky grass during recess.
"We really want a safe place for the kids to run around and climb and just play," Weisenberger said. "They haven't had that opportunity to play the way kids should be able to play. It is not a safe space."
Katie Madden, a Friends of Thorp board member, said her son, now in second grade, was thrilled to hear his school would be getting a playground.
"It will have something for everyone," Madden said, adding that even just a basic playground would be a huge improvement. "Somewhere to climb, somewhere to swing, that's all we need."
Ald. Tim Cullerton (38th) contributed another $50,000 from his discretionary budget toward the effort to build the Thorp campus park.
"There is really no place for kids to play in that area," Cullerton said, adding that the park would be open to all residents of the area, not just students.
In October, a grant from The Learning Kitchen and the city built a learning garden at the school, the first improvement to the school's outdoor space in many years.
Members of the school's playground committee will meet Tuesday to finalize plans for the playground based on the master plan developed by Urban Habitat Chicago.
Some 200 adult volunteers will be needed to build the play structure Aug. 9, Weisenberger said. Those interested in participating can email email@example.com.