Volume 74, Number 27 | November 03 - 09, 2004

Kids, not cars, are finally back in Avenue B school’s playground

By Divya Watal

This year, 800 East Village children can shoot hoops and frolic on swings in their school’s playground instead of bumping into cars and inhaling fumes.

Last year, around this time, the Tompkins Square Middle School was battling bureaucracy, trying to reclaim a playground that the New York City Police Department’s School Safety Division had transformed into a parking lot. Today, the school is basking in victory, after the Department of Education restored the parking lot to its former status.

Children, parents and members of the Tompkins School community have scored a “big win” in a city that pits kids against cars, the school’s parents-teacher association says.

“It feels great to have the playground back. I mean, this is civics in action,” said Lisa Donlan, the school’s P.T.A. president.

Located at the Robert Simon Complex at 600 Avenue B, the playground hosts children from Tompkins School, the Earth School and P.S. 64. Earlier, students of all ages were crammed into a schoolyard for younger children.

The previous playground was “made for little kids — we needed hoops to play basketball,” said Malek, a seventh grader at Tompkins.

“We eighth graders have large bodies,” said Zoe, another Tompkins student, adding that older students would often collide with each other because of the lack of recreational space.

The School Safety Division shared building space with P.S. 64 in the 1980s, when the school had low enrollment and less need of playgrounds, but the Safety Division has since moved its headquarters to Brooklyn. Employees, however, continued using the parking lot for motor pools and to station personal vehicles.

“The previous use of the space didn’t make any sense — it wasn’t an official parking lot,” said Steven Arnerich, father of two Tompkins seventh graders. Parents and children, annoyed with the unwanted intrusion, petitioned elected officials to remove Police Department cars from the area, Arnerich said, adding that “the benefits were obvious and the goals were reachable.”

Their efforts, with support from Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, Councilmember Margarita Lopez and the press, have resulted in a new playing surface with basketball hoops, volleyball and tennis nets and chess tables.

“It’s a happy ending,” Donlan said.

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