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Maspeth school playground brightens boro’s green future

On a gloomy Sunday afternoon late last year, my wife, Elaine, and I drove to Maspeth to visit my old junior high school, now known as IS 73, The Frank Sansivieri Intermediate School. But this was no ordinary trip down memory lane.

I remember JHS 73 with affection. The teachers were all fine, as I recall, and we even had music, art and shop classes during a period when the economy had still not recovered from the Great Depression. In my final term, I was part of a group of students who put on an uncut version of William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” with marionettes we had to learn to manipulate while we spoke our lines. The teachers were confident we could handle the text and the puppets, and we did.

I remember the schoolyard as being a cold, asphalt area where you did not want to be, unless you were assigned to bang blackboard erasers to clean them. If any events were held out there, I have put them out of my mind.

But this past fall, all that changed.

For two months in the fall of 2007, the Trust for Public Land’s Parks for People initiative worked with students and local residents to design a wonderful new playground. The Maspeth Town Hall Community Center is the local sponsor. The $1 million project was funded by the city, with a grant from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation.

The transformed schoolyard includes a basketball court, game tables, a gazebo, a multipurpose track and field area, a water fountain, a handball court, a painted maze, play equipment, a world map, a forest trail, picnic tables, benches, garden beds and two outdoor classrooms. All of this is within a few yards of busy Grand Avenue.

This is a community amenity. It is serving the 1,800 students of IS 73, and when not in school use, it is open to local residents, including weekends. This area of Queens needs all the open, useful space it can get and the new playground is welcome.

This is the second site to be built by the TPL as part of a citywide partnership with the city government under Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s PlaNYC 2030 initiative to transform schoolyards into playgrounds. Ultimately, the initiative will affect 290 schoolyards throughout the five boroughs. To date, the TPL has built 31 playgrounds in the city and six in Newark, N.J.

The TPL is a fine, national organization and its Parks for People city office, led by Andy Stone, has been playing a quietly effective role in greening the city for a number of years. I hope to report further on its activities in Queens in a future column. You can learn more about these programs by visiting www.tpl.org⁄nyc.

I also plan to comment about other greening projects in Queens. There are more than you might think!

In the meantime, I expect to go back to my old junior high school and marvel again at what can be done to improve the lives of the students and so many local residents.

That Sunday afternoon may have been cloudy and cold, but when I walked through that great open space, it was as if the sun was shining full force. Thanks to all who helped make it possible.

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