New Jersey

New playground planned for Newark’s Lincoln Elementary School this year

Students at Lincoln Elementary School will have a new place to run and play by the end of the year thanks to a new initiative to expand access to green space and recreation areas in Newark.

Most of the city’s public schoolyards are covered in asphalt, and organizations such as the national nonprofit Trust for Public Land and the Ahavas Sholom community of Newark are working with Newark Public Schools to redesign outdoor playgrounds.

Last week, the Newark Board of Education approved a partnership with Trust for Public Land and Ahavas Sholom to design and build a new playground at Lincoln School at no cost to the district.

The approximately $2 million project is funded by the Green Acres Grant Program and the Local Recreation Improvement Grant.

“A park at Lincoln Elementary provides an opportunity for the school and community to benefit from outdoor learning and living spaces,” said Nancy Deering, associate director of communications for Newark Public Schools.

Of the 90,000 public schoolyards across the country, less than 1% are landscaped and open to the public after school and on weekends, according to Trust for Public Land data. Concrete and asphalt yards contribute to urban heat islands, the effects of which are most noticeable during warmer months. Newark is one of the nation’s worst heat islands.

The Lincoln School in the Vailsburg neighborhood of the West Ward was built in 1916 and expanded in the 1930s as part of the Works Progress Administration projects instituted by President Franklin Roosevelt. The school yard is currently paved with little play equipment.

In Newark, 94% of the population lives within a 10-minute walk of a park, according to Trust for Public Land’s 2022 ParkScore Index, but for the remaining 17,321 people without access to a nearby park, Trust for Public Land prioritises rehabilitation of School playgrounds such as Lincoln and other outdoor areas to reduce the gap.

“We believe every student, faculty member and resident of Newark should have a community schoolyard that supports the social, emotional and academic development of Newark’s children,” said Scott Dvorak, state director of Trust for Public Land in New Jersey. “We intend to continue our work until we reach that goal.”

Construction is about to begin according to Dvorak in the summer and autumn of this year, the pending permit approvals and the tendering process for construction. Once complete, nearly 500 students and school staff, as well as the area’s more than 8,000 residents, will have access to the schoolyard by the end of this year.

Under the agreement between Trust for Public Land and Newark Public Schools, the non-profit organization will work with school administrators, teachers, students, the local community and other stakeholders to design the playground.

In 2015, Trust for Public Land and Ahavas Sholom helped renovate Sussex Avenue School’s playground, which was also paved and featured a basketball hoop. The school’s students helped design the new space and all classes voted on what they wanted. The new 3-acre schoolyard was designed to include a grass field, running track and drinking fountain in the playground for the first time. The courtyard also includes a seating area made of large granite blocks that functions as an outdoor classroom.

Historically, communities of color and low-income neighborhoods have had less access to green space. Previously, Trust for Public Land helped remodel 13 parks and schoolyards in Newark’s most needy neighborhoods, including Newark Riverfront Park, Jesse Allen Park and Lafayette Street School, as well as 200 schoolyards across the country.

They receive financial support from national and state agencies and other non-profit organizations.

Jessie Gómez is a reporter for Chalkbeat Newark covering public education in the city. Contact Jessie at [email protected]

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