Ribbon-cutting for completed Sussex Avenue Renew School Playground

A festive ribbon-cutting celebration was held today for a new playground at Sussex Avenue Renew School, created through a unique partnership among The Trust for Public Land, Newark’s Congregation Ahavas Sholom, and Newark Public Schools. Dignitaries in attendance included Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, U.S. Senator Cory A. Booker, and his mother, Mrs. Carolyn Booker, U.S. Congressman Donald Payne, Jr., and several other members of Newark’s civic and political communities.

A redeveloped schoolyard at Sussex Avenue Renew School—previously an unimproved asphalt area—now features an outdoor classroom, two playgrounds (one for early childhood classes and another for ages 5 to 12), a water play spray feature for the summer months, and numerous green features that help make the neighborhood more sustainable. The green features include planting areas with trees and other vegetation; two garden areas for the students; porous safety surface in the play areas that allows rain to percolate into the ground. There is also a rain garden and water capture system under an artificial turf field that collect storm run off on rainy days and store it for slow release afterwards, thereby reducing the impact on Newark’s combined stormwater sewer system. These elements together are designed to capture the first 1.25 inches of rain that falls on the site in any rain storm.

“The Trust for Public Land was pleased to work side by side with Congregation Ahavas Sholom and our other partners to bring some much-needed green space to the Sussex Avenue Renew School community,” said Anthony Cucchi, New Jersey director of The Trust for Public Land.

“This new schoolyard not only provides an outdoor play space for students and the neighboring community to enjoy, but it also gives teachers some great opportunities to incorporate the natural environment into their lesson plans as they educate Newark’s next generation of environmental leaders.”

Funding needed to turn the asphalt schoolyard in Newark’s Central Ward into a state-of-the-art green playground was secured jointly by The Trust for Public Land and Congregation Ahavas Sholom over the past several years. Both organizations are committed to improving public schoolyards and parks in Newark, but the Sussex Avenue Renew School Playground marks the first time they have worked together to create a unique place for Newark children to play and learn.

“Torah instructs—in fact, requires—us to proactively seek out opportunities to improve our surrounding communities and neighborhoods. The Sussex Avenue Renew School initiative is an outgrowth of Ahavas Sholom’s passionate commitment to the pursuit of Tikkun Olam (repair the world) and Tzedakah (social justice). It is about fairness. It is about fully embracing all of our children and communities,” said Ahavas Sholom’s President, Eric Freedman. “If you think about it, it is a rather simple message — Newark’s children should play on a playground every bit as good as those of their colleagues in the suburbs. It is about social justice. It is about repairing the world—a little bit at a time.”

“The vision of Renew Schools, like Sussex Avenue, is to ensure children have access to excellent schools and their academic and social emotional well-being is supported,” said Newark Schools Superintendent Cami Anderson. “The partnership between The Trust for Public Land, Congregation Ahavas Sholom, and Principal Gearhart is an example of the promise of Renew being realized.”

Lead support for the project came from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Acres Program and the City of Newark’s Community Development Block Grant Program. Other supporters of the project include: The Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the NY/NJ Snowflake Youth Foundation, an initiative of the NY/NJ Super Bowl Host Committee, The Prudential Foundation, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Victoria Foundation, Helen & William Mazer Foundation, Gibson Family Foundation, CTW Foundation, John A. & Margaret Post Foundation, PSEG Foundation, Wallerstein Foundation for Geriatric Life Improvement, Hyde & Watson Foundation, Landsberger Foundation, and other private donors.

“The DEP Green Acres Program was pleased to collaborate with partners who are dedicated to teaching our youth about natural resources while they play,” said Assistant Commissioner of Natural and Historic Resources Richard Boornazian. “This urban schoolyard has been transformed into an outdoor learning center that mixes fun with environmental education. What an innovative way for Newark’s youth to learn about nature.”

“The Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey has been working for the past 18 years to improve the health and well-being of people of all ages in Newark,” said Marsha Atkind, the Foundation’s Executive Director/CEO. “We recognize the importance of safe, engaging outdoor play spaces and the value of exciting children about urban gardening and healthy eating. We are proud to have contributed to the partnership that produced this wonderful space at Sussex Avenue Renew School.”