Design Award for Newark School Playground

The rebuilt Mount Vernon School playground in Newark’s Vailsburg neighborhood, which was the site of a tragedy in 2007, has won the Excellence in Design Award from the New Jersey Recreation and Park Association (NJRPA). The announcement was made at the association’s annual conference, which took place Tuesday in Atlantic City. The criteria for the award are based on aesthetic quality, uniqueness of design, usability and versatility.

“Out of tragedy, a community has come together and created a safe, friendly playground setting where children can dream, play and develop their mind, body and individual uniqueness,” said Newark Public Schools Executive Director of Facilities Management Steve Morlino.

The award-winning playground includes play equipment for two age groups (2-5 and 5-12), a multi-use field, running track, performance space and two basketball courts, which also serve as tennis courts. In addition, there is a learning garden where students can grow fruits and vegetables, which connect in-door lessons to outdoor activities, and trees to provide shade from the sun.

The playground was rebuilt in 2008 as a dedication to three college students who were killed and one injured at the location. A community effort brought many organizations together to support the school and the playground project.

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) led the playground design and development project through its Parks for People-Newark program, launched in 1995 to address outdoor recreational space needs in Newark neighborhoods.

“TPL was proud to work with the school, community members, and generous donors to help make this a safe place where new memories can be made,” said Scott Dvorak, TPL Parks for People-Newark director.

TPL is currently working to bring a $42 million investment to 11 of Newark’s parks and playgrounds. For Mount Vernon playground TPL raised more than $1 million, mostly from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, The Prudential Foundation, Victoria Foundation, and Schumann Fund for New Jersey. TPL organized a collaboration that included student input into the design of the new playground, as well as expertise from the Greater Newark Conservancy on the garden design PlayCore/GameTime and Marturano Recreation donated play equipment and the safety surface. The landscape architect, Brian Clemson, of Hatch Mott MacDonald, which is based in Millburn, New Jersey, also worked with the students, emphasizing stewardship and turning the process into a learning experience.

Mount Vernon School, which is a pre-kindergarten through eighth grade school with an enrollment of more than 700 students, is located at 142 Mount Vernon Place in Newark’s West Ward.

The NJRPA is a not-for-profit organization of citizen and professional members dedicated to enhancing the quality of life by promoting recreation, parks, conservation, and leisure services through education, professional development, public awareness and direct membership services.

The Newark Public Schools The Newark Public Schools District is the largest and one of the oldest school systems in New Jersey. The district serves approximately 40,000 students in 75 schools ranging from Pre-K to twelfth grade, and employs approximately 7,500 staff within the schools and Central Office.