New Community Schoolyard Opens at the Elmhurst Educational Campus in Queens
The Trust for Public Land, in partnership with New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), today announced the opening of a newly renovated community schoolyard at the Elmhurst Educational Campus. This new parkland serves a diverse population at the four schools sharing the building, where between 71% and 98% of students identify as Black, Hispanic, or Asian and 40% of families fall below the Federal Poverty Level.
The Elmhurst neighborhood is an area of high park need. Trust for Public Land data show 17 acres of park space in Elmhurst for 90,409 people, or 1.93 acres per 10,000 residents (based on 2020 data for the Elmhurst Neighborhood Tabulation Area). Elmhurst’s park areas are in the bottom 15% of the city, ranking 162 out of 188 NTAs in the city. This inequity has real consequences, from park overcrowding to making it difficult for residents to find cooling shade on hot days, and is all the more shocking because Elmhurst was one of the most affected neighborhoods in the Covid epidemic.
The playground was designed by students from each of the four schools housed in at the Elmhurst Campus, including the Pan American International High School, Civic Leadership Academy, VOYAGES Preparatory High School, and Queens Transition Center, to reflect their neighborhood’s unique identity, culture, and character. The student-chosen playground features include basketball hoops, a volleyball court, an outdoor classroom and garden area, game tables, a green-roof gazebo, fitness equipment, benches, a running track, a handball court, a turf field, and bleachers, as well as green infrastructure elements such as shade trees, permeable tables, and synthetic turf areas.
Green infrastructure elements like permeable pavers will capture 1.7 million gallons of stormwater each year, helping to reduce neighborhood flooding and improve the health of nearby Flushing Bay. The schoolyard will be open to the community during non-school hours and will serve nearly 45,000 residents within a 10-minute walk of home.
“Parks and playgrounds are essential for the mental and physical well-being of New Yorkers, and this project is a key part of our work to close the park equity gap and increase climate resiliency by rethinking how we utilize open space.” said Carter Strickland, VP of the Mid-Atlantic and New York State Director for The Trust for Public Land. “In addition to serving the entire community with usable park space, this schoolyard has a new outdoor classroom so that students have the opportunity to safely study while connecting with classmates and its green infrastructure features will absorb millions of gallons of stormwater that would otherwise flood our city streets.”
This area is also low-lying, former wetlands, and is experiences frequent flooding, including most recently during Hurricane Ida. Green infrastructure that absorbs rain can contribute to the solution, and the community playground includes stormwater control elements. These features reduce stormwater runoff that can flood streets and overwhelm sewer systems, allowing untreated water to end up in rivers and bays. Each playground absorbs hundreds of thousands of gallons of water annually and includes new trees that bring shade and better air quality to their neighborhoods.
“Green infrastructure projects like the new schoolyard at the Elmhurst Educational Campus Community Playground are critical to building a more sustainable New York City as we strive for climate justice for all of its residents,” said EPA acting Regional Administrator Walter Mugdan. “EPA is proud to support projects like this one that provide long-term results to improve water quality, prevent pollution, protect local waterways and raise public awareness.”
“DEP is proud to partner with The Trust for Public Land, U.S. EPA and the entire Elmhurst community as we open their new, environmentally-friendly school playground,” said DEP Commissioner Vincent Sapienza. “The green infrastructure elements included in the new play space will absorb more than 1.7 million gallons of stormwater annually and improve the health of the nearby Flushing Bay.”
NFWF, with funding from the EPA, provided nearly $200,000 for completion of the schoolyard through their Long Island Sound Futures Fund that supports projects to fully restore the health and living resources of Long Island Sound. The Sound provides recreational opportunities to millions of residents and offers habitat for thousands of species.
In addition to the physical and environmental benefits the schoolyard creates the school employs a program called YouthBuild where high school students and former students get real work experience through workforce training. The 18–24-year-olds worked to help build four raised garden beds using plastic recycled lumber to deliver to the playground, as part of the learning garden. They also got to meet the turf installers and learn the steps to install a turf field.
The Trust for Public Land also was able to participate in their virtual “job talks” series, presenting on the Playgrounds Program to the YouthBuild staff and participants on the work we do, and the skills required to do it. The Youth Build team visited the construction site at Pan-Am and got to talk to the contractor and workers about what their work was like, asking questions and gaining valuable work experience. Youth Build is also working on a design for a small tool shed that we hope to include along with more raised beds at our next project site in the Bronx.
For nearly 25 years, The Trust for Public Land has guided thousands of students and parents to make the most of their schoolyards, putting 218 community schoolyards where they are needed most. Under The Trust for Public Land’s NYC Park Equity Plan, TPL is planning to build 100 more in neighborhoods that have crowded parks; our data shows that communities of color have 33% less park space per capita in NYC.
Nationwide, the Trust for Public Land has transformed more than 300 underused schoolyards into nature-rich parks designed to address inequities in education, health, and climate impacts. Every one of our community schoolyard transformations includes agreements between a school district and other local agencies to allow the community to use the space when school is closed. According to new research from The Trust for Public Land, open access to all public schoolyards across the country during non-school hours would put a park within a 10-minute walk of more than 19.6 million people, including 5.2 million children, who currently lack access.
This project would not have been possible without the support of local elected leaders.
“The newly renovated community schoolyard at the Elmhurst Educational Campus is a top-notch recreational resource that will serve the Elmhurst community well for decades to come,” said Queens Borough President Donovan Richards Jr. “This investment will better enable both schoolchildren and local residents to enjoy the outdoors and be physically active. The Queens Borough President’s Office is proud to have helped fund this project and to work with Councilmember Daniel Dromm, the Trust for Public Land, and all of our partners on making this schoolyard a reality.”
“Making sure that schools and communities have open and green space is an issue that is very important to me,” said NYC Council Member Daniel Dromm. “As a former teacher I can say that being outdoors really contributes to a student’s overall health and learning. I am so glad that the Pan Am playground has been completed in a district that really needed the support and for students who come from all different backgrounds that may not have access to these amenities otherwise. I hope that as a community we can continue to work with The Trust for Public Land, New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection, the Environmental Protection Agency, and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for more innovative and much-needed projects.”
About The Trust for Public Land
The Trust for Public Land creates parks and protects land for people, ensuring healthy, livable communities for generations to come. Millions of people live within a 10-minute walk of a Trust for Public Land park, garden or natural area, and millions more visit these sites every year. To support The Trust for Public Land and share why nature matters to you, visit www.tpl.org.