Curley schoolyard to be a park

March 20, 2009
By

JOHN RUCH


Courtesy Illustration by ICON Parks Design
The master plan for redesigning the Curley K-8 School’s schoolyard.

JP CENTER—The Curley K-8 School’s grounds will be rebuilt later this year as a combination of outdoor classroom and public park. The new features will include a public seating area on Centre Street, a small performing arts area and an extensive garden with a shallow pond.

“It’s a park in the middle of the neighborhood,” Mayor Thomas Menino said of the redesign in a Gazette interview.

The $300,000 project is funded by the Boston Schoolyard Initiative (BSI), a public-private partnership organization that has become a national model for schoolyard redesign since Menino advocated it 15 years ago.

The twin goals of BSI-funded designs are to create a greener environment for students and to make public schools even more of a general community resource.

“It was important to me to turn blacktop schoolyards into welcoming locations,” Menino said. “Kids can see birds feeding there. It opens up a whole new world to students.”

In a written statement to the Gazette, Boston Public Schools Superintendent Carol Johnson called BSI a “powerful model ensuring students get exercise and outdoor learning during and after the school day.”

Adding general community uses to public school facilities is being advocated by new US Secretary of Edu-cation Arne Duncan. Boston is ahead of that curve in some ways, including the BSI approach to schoolyards and the use of some schools as general community centers after hours.

Previous BSI-funded redesigns include the schoolyards of the local Young Achievers Science and Mathematics Pilot School, the Boston International High School and the Hennigan and John F. Kennedy elementary schools.

For the Curley, which stands at Centre Street and Pershing Road, the redesign covers several different plots around the entire perimeter of the massive building. The vision statement for the redesign, overseen by a parents committee, calls it “green in its look, feel and function” and a “green getaway in the heart of Ja-maica Plain—a welcoming place that grows community.”

The school’s tree-studded front lawn on Centre will remain. It is already an outdoor classroom—a fruit tree orchard created in cooperation with the organization EarthWorks. The redesign will add a walking path and a tree-shaded seating nook on the southern end of the sidewalk.

The new outdoor classroom will be a large plant and flower garden along Pershing, where both students and the public can see nature at work.

Farther down Pershing, there will be an “adventure play” area and a public performance area with informal seating. Suitable for small concerts or other performances, the performance area can be equipped with cloth backdrops. The adventure play area involves active recreation such as digging.

The existing playground equipment behind the school will remain, but asphalt will be minimized in favor of grass. The soccer practice field on the school’s southern side will have shaded seating under a line of trees.

A groundbreaking is set for June, with construction through the summer and an opening slated for October.

The design was created by ICON Parks Design. Curley co-principals Jeffrey Slater and Mirna Vega-Wilson ad-vised the parents committee, which also sought some community input.