Groundbreaking News at Adaire: Unique Partnership Between City Departments and Nonprofits Kicks Off New Schoolyard Project at Fishtown School
On February 21, 2017, the Alexander Adaire School at East Thompson and Palmer Streets hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for its new green schoolyard project. The project is part of a three-and-a-half-year-long effort spearheaded by the Friends of Adaire, a registered nonprofit group of parents, educators, and community members with a mission of providing additional resources and support for the elementary school.
The groundbreaking was attended by the who’s who of Philadelphia’s civil servants. Mayor Jim Kenney, Council President Darrell L. Clarke, Managing Director Michael DiBernardinis and Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. all made speeches commending the group effort involved with the schoolyard revitalization project.
The new schoolyard, which at present strongly resembles a parking lot, will include a large rain garden with a little nature trail running through it, providing opportunities for hands-on biology lessons; a play area furnished with a safe, porous surface; a toddler playground; and a seat wall to divide the play area from the nature garden.
“This is not just a recreational space; it’s a green space and, most importantly, it’s a learning space, creating classroom environments that go beyond the more traditional walls of a schoolhouse,” Superintendent Hite said.
The groundbreaking ceremony began in the Adaire auditorium with a dance routine performed by the fourth grade class. This performance drew much praise from the officials who spoke after, especially Mayor Kenney, who seized the moment to plug his upcoming appearance in the Philadelphia Ballet Company’s production of Le Corsaire.
“I want to recognize the tremendous talent of the fourth graders,” Hite added. “This is why it is so important to have arts in the schools.”
“This schoolyard not only provides green space but also protects the nearby Delaware River, and that’s extremely important,” Mayor Kenney said. “During these uncertain times — and they are uncertain — we must do all we can to protect our resources at the local level.”
Jessica Brooks from the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) addressed the protection of the Delaware River. The PWD will replace some of the current asphalt surface of the schoolyard with a rain garden that will help manage stormwater runoff.
“This is the fifth year of our Clean Waters program and in that time we’ve put up 100 of these sites across the city,” Brooks said.
The rain garden at Adaire is designed to manage 70,000 gallons of stormwater every time it rains over an inch in Fishtown. “To picture that,” Brooks said, “try to imagine 1,400 of our blue rain barrels stacked on top of each other. To imagine that, picture four Comcast Centers stacked on top of each other. It’s a lot of water but that’s just one storm. Over the course of a typical year, the Adaire rain garden will manage over 4.2 million gallons of stormwater. So you can imagine the protection that’s giving to the Delaware River.”
The Adaire playground project is funded by a citywide partnership between the School District of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Water Department, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation and the Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit organization. Adaire is one of 12 projects that the partnership hopes to complete in the near future, seven at public schools and five at recreation centers. Additional funding has been provided by the William Penn Foundation.
Anthony Cucchi from the Trust for Public Land explained the partnership to the assembled students.
“The great news is that everything you need to know about building a playground or a schoolyard, we all learned in third, fourth and fifth grade,” Cucchi said. He went on to explain that the core tenets of a project like this are teamwork, sharing and listening.
However, while this partnership is essential, the schoolyard project would not have come about without the efforts of the Friends of Adaire (FOA), led by project team leader Denis Devine. The FOA formed almost four years ago and has spent that time organizing the project and consulting with city government. Ian Smith, a local architect and member of the FOA, did much of the design work for the playground.
“This is a relatively fast-tracked project,” Devine said, “and we got here as a result of saying ‘yes.’” Devine referred to the amount of compromise that went into their dealings with city government, stating that because the FOA was amenable to the needs of the organizations they dealt with, the project moved along at a steady pace. “It’s about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good,” he added.
The FOA now moves into the second phase of their plans for the schoolyard. “This isn’t the end of the process,” Devine said. “We want to make sure this jewel stays shining.”
For more updates on the FOA and the schoolyard project, visit their website at friendsofadaire.org.