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