Mayor Nutter, Superintendent Hite, cut ribbon on greened schoolyard

June 10, 2014

Mayor Michael A. Nutter, Superintendent Dr. William Hite and The Trust for Public Land made two announcements today regarding the City's efforts to green schoolyards and recreation centers. Construction is nearly complete on a new schoolyard at William Dick Elementary School which will officially open to students and the community later this summer. Across the street from the school, construction is beginning at Hank Gathers Recreation Center.

Both projects are part of Philadelphia's Greenworks Philadelphia plan, specifically the Green2015 initiative, Mayor Nutter's comprehensive plan to significantly increase outdoor recreational opportunities and green infrastructure in underserved neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia.

"This is an exciting collaboration for the City of Philadelphia," said Mayor Nutter. "Working with our partners, we will be able to green places where our children play. When I became Mayor, one of my goals for our great City was making it America's greenest city, which involves infrastructure changes, natural resource management, and the creation of healthy, sustainable spaces. However, it is also about educating our children about the environment so that they are prepared to care for it in the future. I am confident these improved school yards and recreation centers will do all of the above."

The new greened yard at William Dick was designed by the school's students and guided by The Trust for Public Land. The design process began in May 2012, when 50 sixth-through-eighth graders surveyed the existing schoolyard and then studied stormwater management and green infrastructure with support from Philadelphia Water Department staff. Next, student-designers polled the entire student body to identify their goals for the revamped schoolyard, incorporating their feedback into a new schoolyard design, which was subsequently reviewed by teachers, school administrators and outside engineers.

"Involving future park users in the design process for the William Dick Elementary Schoolyard and Hank Gathers Recreation Center underscores The Trust for Public Land's community-driven approach to park development," said Anthony Cucchi, The Trust for Public Land's Pennsylvania state director. "The students, faculty and neighbors who designed these sites shared their stories, hopes and dreams, and they have created new community spaces that reflect the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood's unique character."

The new schoolyard includes a running track, basketball court, turf field, new playground equipment, and plenty of shaded gathering spaces. Gessler Construction was awarded the $671,000 contract and began construction in November. The Trust for Public Land oversaw construction in coordination with the Philadelphia Water Department, which is responsible for the site's storm water management features. In addition to providing outstanding play opportunities for kids, the yard incorporates many environmental features such as a rain garden that will collect storm water from the school and adjacent parking lot, keeping the water and its pollutants out of the sewer system and creating a lush, green backdrop for the schoolyard.

Bill Green, Chair of the School Reform Commission said, "When schools, communities, and local agencies work together as we're doing in the Green2015 project, we're given a unique opportunity to maximize value all around us. The children and everyone participating in this project are learning why it's important to care about public spaces like city parks, school yards, and neighborhood playgrounds. At a time when the District must make the very best use of limited financial resources, this project offers the potential to provide cost-effective new ways to improve the quality of life in our city by creating more publicly accessible green space and protecting the environment at the same time."

At Hank Gathers Recreation Center, 75 neighborhood residents working with Philadelphia Parks & Recreation and The Trust for Public Land participated in a series of design workshops to select features that will improve the recreation center. The resulting design will enhance an existing junior baseball diamond and relatively new basketball courts. It will also add a new water spray park, upgraded seating areas, a picnic grove under an existing canopy of trees and a native grass bank. The community-driven design builds upon the recreation center's existing programming and enhances active and passive recreation opportunities for users of all ages. Sean's Landscaping was recently awarded the $380,358 construction contract.

The construction announcement is a major step forward for the city's Green2015 pilot program for schoolyards and recreation centers, which was unveiled at William Dick Elementary School in May, 2012. When fully implemented, the pilot project will green 10 school playgrounds and city recreation centers at a total cost of $10 million, about half of which will be funded by a combination of state, city, and school district sources. The Trust for Public Land is leading the effort to raise private dollars to fund the second half. The nonprofit organization will also establish a stewardship fund to assist local organizations with maintenance and programming for each site.

The project leverages Philadelphia Water Department funds directed toward meeting federally-mandated stormwater management regulations, committed state funding through the Pennsylvania Department of Conversation and Natural Resources (DCNR), and private philanthropy raised by The Trust for Public Land from many, including the William Penn Foundation, MetLife Foundation, National Recreation Foundation, Mr. H.F. (Gerry) Lenfest, NBCUniversal Foundation, Phillies Charities, the McLean Contributionship, and a $1 million challenge gift from The Otto Haas Charitable Trust at the direction of John and Janet Haas.

The William Penn Foundation was one of the original supporters of the planning and public engagement effort to draft the Green2015 action plan and is now providing significant resources for the pilot project. "This program represents a triple bottom line for Philadelphia. It cuts down on paved surfaces, which helps to keep heavy rains from washing pollutants into our water supply," said Janet Haas, M.D., the Board Chair of the William Penn Foundation. "It repurposes existing city property, putting assets we already own to better use. And it brings communities together in attractive public spaces around their schools and recreation centers. In a time of economic scarcity, that level of impact is no small feat."

"When we launched the Green2015 action plan last year, our goal was to chart a course for action that would make our city more equitable, livable, and competitive. Now we stand in partnership to make good on that goal through the greening and connecting of our community assets, parks and recreation centers and schoolyards," said Michael DiBerardinis, Deputy Mayor, Environmental & Community Resources/Parks and Recreation Commissioner.

Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug shared the Water Department's enthusiasm for Green2015, "Over the next 25 years, Philadelphia will be making unprecedented investments in green infrastructure that will enhance our communities as well as our waterways. These school children will be the future stewards of this infrastructure, making programs like this key to a sustainable, healthy future in Philadelphia."

Through its Parks for People-Philadelphia program, The Trust for Public Land is playing a key role in implementing the Green2015 Initiative to transform 500 acres of land into neighborhood green spaces by 2015. The Trust for Public Land works with the City of Philadelphia to identify existing schoolyards and recreation centers as prime opportunities for conversion into greened play spaces and recreation areas.