Groundbreaking for green space

Adaire school com­munity and city of­fi­cials come to­geth­er for school­yard ground­break­ing ce­re­mony.

Breaking new ground: Schoolyard project leader Denis Devine chats with Mayor Jim Kenney.

By Christopher Seamans

Neigh­bors, par­ents, stu­dents, and fac­ulty came to­geth­er with politi­cians and rep­res­ent­at­ives from non­profits last Tues­day to cel­eb­rate break­ing ground on a new school­yard at Al­ex­an­der Adaire School in Fishtown.

The gen­es­is of the pro­ject was ap­prox­im­ately three and a half years ago after Jenette Oddo, former prin­cip­al at Adaire, se­cured a prom­ise of fund­ing for a school­yard pro­ject from City Coun­cil pres­id­ent Dar­rell Clarke, al­though the amount wasn’t yet in writ­ing.

Friends of Adaire com­mu­nic­a­tions chair Denis Dev­ine, a former re­port­er, vo­lun­teered to call Clarke’s of­fice to get a firm num­ber.

“Build­ing a play­ground or lead­ing a school­yard pro­ject wasn’t fa­mil­i­ar to me,” Dev­ine said, “but call­ing a politi­cian’s of­fice? Yeah, I’d done that be­fore.”

Dev­ine ended up be­com­ing the pro­ject’s lead­er. Once Clarke com­mit­ted to a num­ber, sev­er­al com­munity meet­ings were held where loc­al res­id­ents weighed in on what they’d like to see in the school­yard. Ar­chi­tect Ian Smith chipped in by agree­ing to put to­geth­er the plans for the pro­ject pro bono.

“Ours was ac­tu­ally not a grand vis­ion,” Dev­ine said. “It was lim­ited in scope. What can we get? What will people pay for? What makes this more likely to hap­pen soon­er rather than later? I really think the timeline and suc­cess of our pro­ject are a func­tion of us not hold­ing out for the ideal and not let­ting the per­fect be the en­emy of the good but mak­ing the best out of the of­fers and op­por­tun­it­ies we had.”

The new school­yard will in­clude activ­ity spaces where chil­dren will be able to play, in­clud­ing a play­ground, and a large green space that will serve as a park and an out­door classroom. This green space will help with storm­wa­ter man­age­ment as well — ac­cord­ing to the Phil­adelphia Wa­ter De­part­ment’s Jes­sica Brooks, it will ab­sorb ap­prox­im­ately 4.2 mil­lion bar­rels of storm­wa­ter each year.

Ac­cord­ing to Dev­ine, the type of pub­lic funds re­ceived re­quire the school­yard to be open to the pub­lic.

“It’s not only go­ing to be there for the stu­dents, it’s also go­ing to be an as­set for the neigh­bors,” he ex­plained. “How much pub­lic ac­cess? How we man­age that pub­lic ac­cess? We still have to an­swer those ques­tions.”

The ground­break­ing cel­eb­ra­tion kicked off with a dance routine by Adaire’s 4th-graders who have been in­volved in a pro­gram with the Rock School for Dance.

After that, sev­er­al speak­ers took the po­di­um to talk about the pro­ject.

Those in at­tend­ance in­cluded May­or Jim Ken­ney, Coun­cil Pres­id­ent Dar­rell Clarke, Phil­adelphia Man­aging Dir­ect­or Mi­chael DiB­er­ardinis, and School Dis­trict Su­per­in­tend­ent Wil­li­am Hite.

May­or Ken­ney fo­cused on the sus­tain­ab­il­ity of the green space dur­ing his re­marks.

“Dur­ing these un­cer­tain times, we must do all we can to pro­tect our nat­ur­al re­sources at the loc­al level,” he said. “Thanks to the part­ner­ship between the city de­part­ments and non­profits, we can have a pos­it­ive and last­ing im­pact. I look for­ward to see­ing all the use that this play­ground will get.”

Hite fo­cused on the edu­ca­tion­al pos­sib­il­it­ies.

“This is not just a re­cre­ation­al space, it’s a green space and, more im­port­antly, it’s a learn­ing space,” said Hite. “These spaces, both here at Adaire and oth­er places, then be­come crit­ic­ally im­port­ant to cre­at­ing classrooms and classroom en­vir­on­ments that go bey­ond the more tra­di­tion­al walls of the school­house.”

DiB­er­ardinis, a Fishtown res­id­ent since the 1970s, said of the pro­ject, “It’s great to have. Every neigh­bor­hood de­serves high qual­ity pub­lic fa­cil­it­ies — schools, re­cre­ation cen­ters, lib­rar­ies, and parks. This ad­min­is­tra­tion, which I’m proud to be a part of, has a deep com­mit­ment to that and this is part of that com­mit­ment. It builds com­munity, it lifts up the qual­ity of life, and provides edu­ca­tion­al op­por­tun­it­ies that haven’t ex­is­ted in the past.

Prin­cip­al Anna Jen­kins said, “This pro­ject did start be­fore I came here, but we’ve been spend­ing a lot of time on it over the past three years and we just want to pro­duce this for the kids. So I’m thrilled and I can’t wait un­til the sum­mer when we cut the rib­bon and ac­tu­ally get to ex­per­i­ence it.”

Adaire stu­dent Jay­la, who donned a hard hat to help with the ground­break­ing said, “I’m very ex­cited to be a part of this,” and be­lieved she would get use out of the new park.

Khymir and Dax, two oth­er stu­dents at the school, ex­plained what they would like to see in the school­yard. “I’d like to see a new soc­cer field,” Dax said. “It would be great if there was a lake.”

Dev­ine said, “I star­ted this work four years ago with Friends of Adaire, my wife is the pres­id­ent, and many of our friends help form the core of the board and our chil­dren were young. They wer­en’t in school yet. I just didn’t al­low my­self to be­lieve that this pro­ject had a chance of be­ing done be­fore my son was en­rolled. It looks like that’s go­ing to hap­pen. That’s really ex­cit­ing.”

The next phase of the pro­ject, between now and the rib­bon-cut­ting ce­re­mony, is se­cur­ing vo­lun­teers to help main­tain the school­yard.

“When we talk about open­ing it in the sum­mer, we want to have a sol­id plan for how to sup­port it for the sum­mer — tak­ing care of it, vo­lun­teers, the main­ten­ance of it,” Jen­kins said. “Any­one that’s will­ing to help out, we’re look­ing for sup­port from the com­munity.”

“The stuff that’s not ex­cit­ing, but is really im­port­ant is how do we main­tain, pre­serve, and se­cure this beau­ti­ful park that is go­ing to be built?” Dev­ine ad­ded. “Once they build it, we still have to fig­ure out, ‘How do we keep dog poop off of the ground?’ and ‘How do we keep teens from break­ing bottles all the time?’ There’s this whole oth­er pro­cess start­ing now and we need all the help we can get for that.”

To vo­lun­teer to help Friends of Adaire main­tain the school­yard, vis­it their web­site at friend­so­fa­daire.weebly.com.