BOERUM HILL — Construction began on P.S. 261 Philip Livingston’s schoolyard, March 25, a student-designed space that will include a synthetic turf field, outdoor classroom, a kickball field and a running track.
The project will continue until September 2013, according to a letter issued by the school’s principal and was funded by the California-based Trust for Public Land, which worked with the School Construction Authority and students to create the space last year.
“The kids have been anticipating this for a while now,” said Parent Coordinator Gerald Piper.
While construction at 314 Pacific St., is underway, the school has been granted permission by the Department of Transportation to close Pacific Street, between Smith and Hoyt streets from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for recess, pick-up and drop-off, according to the principal’s letter.
Parents in the neighborhood are excited about the new playground, one of the few large open spaces for exercise and actvity in the neighborhood.
“We’ve all been looking forward to it,” said Amy Huggans, who has two children at P.S. 261.
Boerum Hill locals hope to use the playground as a communal space, but past experiences of vandalism at schoolyards is making the search challenging. Just a few blocks away, intruders have plagued the schoolyard of P.S. 38 The Pacific School and locals worry that P.S. 261’s new grounds could attract the same trouble.
While it is unclear if and how P.S. 261’s schoolyard will be open for public use, Piper said keeping the grounds safe would take community effort, but until construction had been completed, fear regarding vandalism was too early.
Huggans admits that it will be a challenge but hopes the community will take care of the grounds. “We have to look out for each other,” she said.
At P.S. 38, intruders often cut the fence around the yard and enter the playground over the weekends, said PTA president Chris Topher Brown. School custodians would routinely find trash, broken glass and used condoms on Monday morning, which they had to clean before students arrived for school.
Earlier this year, DNAinfo.com reported on the dangerous conditions of the P.S. 38 playground at 450 Pacific St, that was a hazard to children's safety.
“It’s very discouraging to have this happen,” said Margaret Cusack, former president of the Hoyt Street Association.
The P.S. 38 schoolyard was refurbished about ten years ago by the Trust for Public Land, the same organization renovating P.S. 261’s Big Yard. As a part of the deal, the schoolyard was kept open to the public for three years after the construction, bringing a weekend crowd that would leave the schoolyard in disarray.
“It’s one of the only big playground’s in the community,” said Brown. “It’s really actively used.”
The once newly renovated schoolyard is now tarnished with cracks along the ground and garbage left in pockets of the yard. Parents hope to use $430,000 of the district’s participatory budget to renovate the P.S. 38 schoolyard with new lights, pavement, extra trash receptacles and metal rod fences to prevent people from cutting the wire, said Tatiana Dierckx, a parent and a member of the District 33 education committee.
Dierckx said the school has also suggested granting additional funding to allow custodians to clear the weekend mess that is left on the grounds.
The playground is now closed to the public and while P.S. 38 doesn’t want to tell locals not to use the playground, “if we can’t keep it safe for the kids, then we can’t open it up for the community,” said Brown.
Concern for P.S. 261’s ground has permeated through the community and some suggest a neighborhood watch to stop intruders.
“A lot of the solution is having people own their own neighborhood,” said Cusack, adding that the school’s neighbors should be aware and call the police if necessary.
Several ideas have been brought forward, such as bringing together a dedicated group of volunteers, neighbors, basketball players and picnickers to take charge of cleaning and locking up the space, a tactic that can be used for both schools, said Howard Kolins, president of the Boerum Hill Association
“We are very, very short of recreational space in Boerum Hill. “These two school yards could serve that function,” said Kolins, who added that the association has not actively begun looking for volunteers.
While plans are still at a discussion stage, Kolins, locals and school officials agree that keeping the yard clean and safe will take a community effort.
“We want a safe recreational space for everybody,” said Kolins.