In August 2003, a 25-foot sinkhole swallowed the playground at PS 11 in Woodside. No one was injured, but for two years students had to take turns using the school’s other outdoor space, spending half of their play periods inside. “It was terrible,” said Mark Puma, now a sixth grader at the school. “It was dirty. Everything was cracked.”
Now Puma and his classmates have a new playground, with a basketball court, a volleyball court and a large map of the United States painted in vivid colors on the asphalt. “It’s much more fun now.”
The playground also features additional basketball hoops, a track and several areas for hopscotch.
“The new playground is beautiful and is more than we ever dreamed of,” Principal Anna Efkarpides said. “After two years without a yard to play in, the kid’s eyes literally light up when they see it.”
The sinkhole developed because the playground was built on top of an earlier incarnation of PS 11, which burned down. Not all of the rubble was removed from the landfill. Over time it shifted, causing small fissures to develop on the playground’s surface. Then one night, it collapsed.
Councilman Eric Gioia secured the $2 million to rebuild the playground. Last year, he secured money for a new computer center. “Every boy and girl in our neighborhood needs a place to play, stretch their legs, and get fresh air during their lunch break, so that they can study hard while in the classroom the rest of the day,” he said. “I’m thrilled to present this brand-new playground to the boys and girls at my alma mater, PS 11.”
Gioia attended PS 11, as did his grandmother, mother, father and most of his family. His cousin, Mikey, is currently a student there. As a fifth-grader at PS 11, he was selected by the school’s administration to tour the city and speak to elected officials and citywide leaders about the school’s overcrowding, calling for an annex to be built on the school grounds to ease the congestion.
He took an interest in the project a year and a half ago when a student stood up during a PS 11 assembly and told him the playground had collapsed and could no longer be used. “It’s exciting for me to be able to give back to the school that gave me so much,” Gioia said.
Sixth-grader Joey Mesquita was looking forward to the prospect of playing outside every day. “It was boring before. They didn’t let us run,” he said.