Jackson Heights schoolyard is 200th to become playground


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com |

Renderings Courtesy of the Parks Department
Renderings Courtesy of the Parks Department

The schoolyards of I.S. 145 and P.S. 69 are being converted to playgrounds.

One of the city’s most congested communities is getting a little extra room to breathe.

Schoolyards at P.S. 69 and I.S. 145 in Jackson Heights are being transformed into student-designed playgrounds that will be open to the public on weekdays after school until dusk and on weekends from 8 a.m. to dusk.

The renovations aim to provide the neighborhood with more open space, answering the calls from community leaders and local elected officials.

“My council district ranks 50 out of 51 districts in the city with regards to park space,” said Councilmember Daniel Dromm. “Jackson Heights is the second neediest district in terms of park space, according to the New Yorkers for Parks Survey. This transition will create new, open space for people to use for recreational activities, to sit and relax and enjoy a newspaper or just to take in some fresh air, and it provides my constitutions with something they have been telling me they want desperately –  open space and green space.”

The councilmember believes the additional park space will also foster growth in Jackson Heights and encourage youthful visitors and prospective residents to enter the community.

“We have seen an influx of young families moving into the neighborhood, and open park space and good schools are the two things these families are most looking for,” Dromm said. “The open spaces will make this a great place to raise your kids. The added benefit is that parks raise property value and makes the neighborhood more desirable to people looking to purchase a new home. These playgrounds will contribute to the desirability of living in Jackson Heights.”

The renovations were made as part of PlaNYC’s Schoolyards to Playgrounds program, which aims to ensure all New Yorkers live within a 10 minute walk of a park or playground. The city has invested $87.6 million to convert approximately 230 schoolyards into playgrounds by 2013.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg was joined by Parks and Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and Jackson Heights elected officials on November 30 at the recently-completed playground at P.S. 69, located at 77-02 37th Avenue, to announce that the school was the 200th member of the Schoolyards to Playgrounds program.

“Since 2002, our administration has been committed to creating new public parks and new open spaces of every kind,” said Bloomberg. “PlaNYC, our long-term sustainability agenda, identified public schoolyards that could be opened up year-round in neighborhoods most in need of open space. Despite the economic downturn, we’ve maintained our commitment to this innovative program and we are delivering on our promise. In a time of tight budgets, our schoolyards represent a great opportunity for transforming existing, underused resources into something we can all enjoy.”

According to a Parks Department spokesperson, schools selected for the Schoolyards to Playgrounds initiative are usually in underserved neighborhoods. I.S. 145’s playground, located at 33-34 80th Street, is scheduled for completion during the summer of 2012. Both the P.S. 69 and I.S. 145 projects cost approximately $300,000, according to the source.

As part of the initiative, representatives from the Trust for Public Land, a non-profit organization and the city’s premier partner in the program, visit the schools to gather the opinions and ideas of community members, faculty and students to incorporate into the designs of the parks.

Dromm says he hopes the city can also complete the purchase of the roughly 29,000-square-feet of  park land beside the Garden School, located at 33-16 79th Street – across the street from Jackson Heights’ Travers Park. According to the councilmember, who has contributed $5 million in funding to the project, the mayor’s office is currently working to acquire the land.

The Jackson Heights Beautification Group is facilitating the discussions between the Garden School and the city, in hopes that the deal can benefit the cash-strapped school by providing an influx of capital.

“This would be a win, win, win for the Garden School, Parks Department and Jackson Heights,” said Edwin Westely, president of the Jackson Heights Beautification Group, who believes the purchase of the land imminent. “Jackson Heights gets more open space, the Parks Department would get more parks land and the school will be helped out with funds.”