On a rainy Tuesday, Maureen Sullivan convinced her son, Bobby — with the help of a darkening sky — that the weather was too gloomy to test out the swings and other amenities at PS 122’s new playground in Astoria.
For the first time in four days, she said, video games would just have to serve as a substitute.
Before the playground on Ditmars Boulevard had its official grand opening last Friday, Bobby, a second grader who his mom referred to as slightly overweight, would play games and be content with a day indoors.
“You may not think it would matter much because it’s not as if the television and games all of a sudden go away,” Sullivan said. “But anything new is always going to generate excitement.”
The old schoolyard with its enormous handball court meshed with painted murals and acts of graffiti was replaced with tennis courts, a track, a baseball field and plenty of trees planted to provide shade from the sun.
The playground, which was built through a partnership between the city Department of Education, Department of Parks and Recreation and the Trust for Public Land, will be open to the public on weekends and during after-school hours on weekdays until dusk.
The transformation of the schoolyard into a playground was part of the PlaNYC initiative to ensure that all New Yorkers live within a 10-minute walk to a park. It also calls for schoolyards to have play equipment that encourages climbing and organized sports.
The project took three years to complete and the school was left without a yard for one of those years as a result.
“That was bad but the walls and courts developed cracks,” said Pamela Sable, the school’s principal. “It was needed.”
The school’s physical education teachers were so eager to use the playground that they signed up to have their classes outdoors as early as March, which Sable refers to as the “unofficial opening” of the playground.
“The response from our students and faculty members has been overwhelmingly delightful,” the principal said. “So many of the families use the facility.”
Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), who grew up and still lives a half block away from the playground, attended the ribbon-cutting celebration and acknowledged that the park has the potential to increase exercise among youngsters.
“With childhood-obesity rates being as high as they are, children need every motivation possible to play outside and stay healthy, and this new playground will go a long way toward getting kids excited about exercising,” Vallone said.
Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) was also on hand and agreed with Vallone about the park’s ability to encourage healthy living.
“This beautiful schoolyard will encourage our children to exercise their bodies as well as their minds,” Simotas said.
For the time being at least, as Sullivan pointed out, the playground is new and is something different to look forward to.
“There’s a lot here for kids to enjoy,” Sullivan said. “My only issue is that it wasn’t open in time for my older kid.”