RAVENSWOOD — Every year for the past five years, students at Ravenswood Elementary have been told they would be getting a new playground.
That promise came true on Friday, as parents, teachers, students and members of the community broke ground on the school's new $1.5 million outdoor campus.
"It's good for them to see we weren't kidding," said Wendy Vasquez, former co-chair of Friends of Ravenswood, the school's fundraising arm.
Patty Wetli discusses why the playgrounds are so important on DNAinfo Radio:
The groundbreaking ceremony was planned to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Field Day, an annual series of sporting challenges, at Ravenswood, 4332 N. Paulina Ave. The series takes place in the school's existing play area, which is the opposite of green.
"What we have right now is a big empty asphalt lot," said Principal Nate Manaen.
Manaen, hired last summer to fill the vacancy left by Heather Connolly, said he was "shocked" the first time he pulled up to the school, which is surrounded by tree-lined streets and landscaped yards, "and then I saw this giant asphalt lot."
"It didn't fit with the amazing profile of what's going on inside the building," he said.
Construction of the new outdoor campus is set to begin June 2, including breaking up all that blacktop, and is expected to be completed by the time students return to school in the fall.
The project is being funded through a $750,000 grant from the State of Illinois as part of a storm water management program, $350,000 from the City of Chicago, $200,000 from a previous grant and the remainder from Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th).
Features include a playground, walking paths, porous pavement, rain gardens, cisterns to collect rainwater to use for irrigation, and 27 new trees. The campus will extend midway into the current faculty parking lot, with staff voting to give up 13 parking spots in favor of more green space, Manaen said.
One thing the folks at Ravenswood didn't need to budget for: shovels for the groundbreaking. They borrowed those from McPherson Elementary, which turned over some ceremonial dirt of its own on Wednesday.
Come fall, McPherson, 4728 N. Wolcott Ave., will debut a new outdoor campus of its own, replacing the "mud pit" where children now play.
Work on the project — expected to encompass several phases — won't start until July, but parents and staff wanted to celebrate while school was still in session so that students could enjoy the proceedings. A block party included dancing, music, food trucks, a juggler and art projects.
"We got a big turnout and built a bit of excitement," said Bob Farster, head of McPherson's Local School Council.
The campus design includes a main lawn for active play; a running track along the site's perimeter; a playground, with separate equipment areas for younger and older children; a learning garden with raised bed; and a basketball court. Nearly every feature will be permeable to allow for water drainage.
Pawar worked with Openlands, State Sen. Heather Steans (D-7th) and a private donor to cobble together nearly $600,000 in funding toward the campus. Friends of McPherson has also applied for a $750,000 green infrastructure grant from the state — the same grant Ravenswood received.
"I think a lot our students do understand the investment and they do appreciate it," said Principal Carmen Mendoza.
The campus will provide children with an opportunity for more physical activity, she said, but will also be open to the community.
"Come and sit and read a book," Mendoza said.
Pawar, who was present at both groundbreakings, said, "This is what happens when you build community around schools."