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LaSalle II Principal Says Students Loving New Playground

By Alisa Hauser | September 22, 2014 4:06pm
 Three years in the making, a new playground opened at LaSalle II Magnet School in Wicker Park. A ribbon cutting ceremony was held on Sept. 19.
LaSalle II New Playground Ribbon Cutting September 19, 2014
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WICKER PARK — Getting children off of a new playground and into school has been one of the results of a new "globally inspired" re-imagined campus that also includes a striking mosaic mural and an outdoor classroom.

"From 7 a.m to 6 p.m., they are on [the playground]," said Lauren Albani, principal of LaSalle II Magnet School, 1148 N Honore St. in Wicker Park.

After a ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday, Albani described the new playground, which was over three years in the making, "a labor of love." 

Addressing some 100 students and parents who stayed after school to celebrate the playground, Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) reminded students of their responsibilities. 

"You've got to keep it cleaned and picked up for generations to come," Moreno said.

Moreno was able to secure $450,000 for the design and construction of the playground, with $400,000 of those funds coming from developer "impact fees" through the Dept. of Planning and Development, he said.

Moreno said he was also able to chip in $50,000 from his aldermanic "menu funds."

Those funds, along with money from Open Lands that was used to convert a large concrete area into an outdoor garden classroom and $100,000 in private contributions through the school's capital campaign run by volunteers, completed the funding needed for the project.

"It was great to see the plans come to life. It brought parents together and everyone was involved," Albani said.

The playground, which features a soft ground surface to cushion falls, was designed by Hana Ishikawa, a design director with Site Design Group, a Downtown architectural landscape firm that also designed Near North Montessori School's playground.

Since LaSalle II Magnet School is a language academy, Ishikawa's playground design, which was developed using parent and student feedback, incorporates four languages: Spanish, Chinese, Arabic and French. 

If children look closely at the playground's equipment, they would see quotes from literary works such a "Don Quixote" and "Le Petit Prince."

While playing on the playground on Friday, fifth-grader Kamri Raddem said: "I like everything about it; it's really cool."

Shannon Weisblatt was helping to "spot" for her 3-year-old son, Isaiah, a pre-K student, as he navigated his way, upside down, across the monkey bars. 

"It's amazing. He loves the climbing, the bridges, the ropes," Weisblatt said.

In addition to the playground, Friday's ceremony also celebrated a new mosaic mural along the southern wall of the school that "used over 1,000 pounds of clay, worked by every child in the school," according to Kristin Drutchas, a LaSalle II parent and chairwoman of the school's Capital Campaign.

The mural, which features key words such as "teamwork" and respect" in a variety of languages, was designed and installed by artists Julia Sowles-Barlow and Alfonso “Piloto” Nieves Ruiz of Chicago Public Art Group (CPAG), a nonprofit organization.

The playground project also included adding a six-bed vegetable garden in the back of the school that will serve as a second outdoor classroom, augmenting an ornamental garden in the front of the school on the Division-facing side of the street that was completed last year.

Ronda Locke, a co-chairwoman of the Playground Committee, which formed in 2011, said that both the school's front and back gardens, which used donated materials from Christy Webber landscaping, will require work from students to upkeep.

"We are absolutely ecstatic and can't believe it's a reality. Thanks to many people, it's a dream for us," Locke said of the school community's response to the new playground.

Now that the playground is complete, future fundraising efforts will focus on raising money for a new athletic field, Drutchas wrote on the school's website.

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