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Jax Hts park marks 200th conversion from schoolyard in city

Mayor Michael Bloomberg (second from l.) announces the opening of PS 69's renovated playground with Sen. Jose Peralta (l.-r.), Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, Councilman Daniel Dromm, David Bragdon of the Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, Assemblyman Francisco Moya and PS 69 Principal Martha Vasquez. Photo by Rebecca Henely
TimesLedger Newspapers

Mayor Michael Bloomberg visited Jackson Heights, the neighborhood most starved for park space in Queens, last week to celebrate the upcoming opening of PS 69’s student-designed playground, which comes complete with a human sundial and rock wall with “fossils.”

The playground is the 200th schoolyard in the city to be converted to an open space accessible to the public through Bloomberg’s PlaNYC, a wide-scale initiative to improve the city in preparation for the 1 million more residents the city is expected to have in 2030.

“Nothing is more important than building a future for our children and that includes having a safe place to play,” Bloomberg said.

As part of the goal to ensure all New Yorkers live within a 10-minute walk of a park, Bloomberg said the city is scheduled to convert 230 schoolyards into publicly accessible playgrounds by 2013. The schoolyard of PS 69, at 77-02 37th Ave. in Jackson Heights, is No. 200.

David Bragdon, director of the mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, said this is the largest expansion of public space in the city since legendary city planner Robert Moses’ work in the mid-20th century.

“They all reflect the values of PlaNYC and the mayor’s vision for the future,” Bragdon said.

The park was funded by a partnership between the city and the land conservation nonprofit The Trust for Public Land, Bloomberg said.

Bragdon said the renovation of the park was championed by Ed Westley of the Jackson Heights Beautification Group and designed by children from PS 69.

“This is really kid-friendly,” said City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights). “It’s a wonderful addition to this community.”

Mary Alice Lee, a member of the trust, said the design began in December 2009. The new Jackson Heights park includes a running track, an AstroTurf field, a rock climbing wall decorated with fossils, a slide, a human sundial, hopscotch and benches shaped like caterpillars.

“It is truly beautiful,” said city Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott. “It’s open to all.”

City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said the renovation cost $376,000, and while a few more trees need to be added, the new playground park came under the average cost for transforming a school yard at $400,000.

“It’s a great bang for the buck,” Benepe said.

The playground is not yet open to the public but will soon be available during non-school hours from dawn until dusk.

PS 69 Principal Martha Vazquez said children have been enjoying the playground since the beginning of the year.

“I feel as though we’re the recipients of a jewel in Jackson Heights,” Vazquez said.

Borough President Helen Marshall said she used to be a teacher and the playground was a great change from the concrete lots the schools had when she worked in the public school system.

“They’ve just been enhanced so much with these wonderful programs,” Marshall said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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