By Aaron Blevins, 4/26/2012
It’s been said that if the children of Los Angeles are to have adequate park space, a marriage between the city and its schools will need to occur. As of January, the two entities are in holy matrimony.
People for Parks, a pro-park nonprofit organization in Los Angeles, recently celebrated the opening of community school parks at Vine Street Elementary School and Trinity Street Elementary School. The two projects were the result of a public-private partnership between the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), government officials and People for Parks.
“Our goal is to ‘green’ as many LAUSD schools as possible,” People for Parks Vice President John Perez said.
The Trinity Elementary School project was the first to open, Vine Street Elementary School’s park opened shortly thereafter in February. It features a volleyball net, a basketball court, a rubberized track, benches, a playground area and a mini soccer field. It’s also open to the public on weekends.
“It’s wonderful,” Principal Christopher Stehr said. “There’s been a lot of support for it.”
The process began five years ago, when People for Parks secured concept motions from the Los Angeles City Council and the LAUSD to open parks on public school property for use by the public on weekends and vacations, Perez said.
He said the district created a working group, which selected four potential sites based on need and availability. People for Parks narrowed that down to two sites, and the organization sought grants to fund potential supervisors.
The construction of the Vine Street Elementary School park, which cost more than $1 million, commenced in late July 2011. Stehr said the planning and work took three and a half years, much to the dismay of the school’s second-graders, who have eagerly inquired about the park’s status throughout the process. Now, as sixth-graders, they’re reaping its benefits.
“They were always talking about it,” Stehr added.
The community school park, or “pocket park” as they are sometimes called, opened Feb. 6, and now has new hours — 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the weekends. Stehr said the park will open seven-days-a-week this summer. He said that, per the agreement between People for Parks and the school, the area is open to students and staff only through the week, as the school has programming until 6 p.m. each day.
The park was built on an open asphalt surface that housed bungalows in the past, Stehr said. Now, the area provides an entirely new atmosphere and adds a lot to the school, he said. It also provides park space for area children who don’t have accessible parkland otherwise, Stehr said.
“It’s very relaxing and calming,” he added.
Originally, the city was supposed to help fund the project, but later backed out. LAUSD inevitably footed the bill, though the park has received plenty of support from other entities. Stehr said extra playground equipment is slated to be installed at the park, and its $75,000 price tag was picked up by the offices of school board member Marguerite LaMotte, 1st District, and City Council members Tom LaBonge, 4th District, and Eric Garcetti, 13th District.
When the park is open, two people must be on hand to supervise. The grant secured by People for Parks allowed organizers to hire a parent volunteer at Vine Street Elementary School and a Beyond the Bell employee to supervise on the weekends.
“Basically, we’re here to give them some nutrition, some fitness,” said Maria Martinez, one of the park supervisors.
Initially, the park was somewhat hidden, she said, but now residents are beginning to take advantage. Martinez said the school is seeking to host some events at the park, such as a Cinco de Mayo celebration. She said they also have activities, such as arts and crafts. However, programming for the park is a work in progress.
“Basically, we’re open to anything,” Martinez said.