With the Build Dates fast approaching for the new Highview Playground (Oct. 5 - 9), it's at the front of many people's minds. At the school board meeting last night, it was brought to the table about the possibility of allowing Highview Elementary students go to the playground during recess.
"I would like to discuss with the Board about allowing recess at Highview school to resume where the kids would walk across the street and are able to have recess both behind the school as well as at this new playground," said Superintendent Mark McNeill. "I want them to be able to have the experience of playing on the playground on a daily basis."
This issue was put on the table at the meeting and the board decided to return to the issue at a future board meeting. Here are some of the issues and concerns that came up:
Playground Behind Highview & Crosswalk
"It was an intersection of a lot of events taking place back then," said McNeill. "The (previous wooden castle) playground had not past inspection. It was 20 years old and had to be taken down. At the time, there was contemplation of putting something back there (behind Highview Elementary), but there was no contemplation that another Highview Playground would be developed. So being proactive, we put another playground in the back of Highview and we said, 'Now we won't have the kids walking across the street.' The impression was that there wasn't going to be another big playground across the street for kids to go play on anyway."
"It's changed, the environment has changed," McNeill continued. "Now there's this beautiful new playground and to me, the kids in Highview, they're looking across the street. How many of them have parents who helped build that. Is it fair to them to say no? It's a value judgment. Back when the playground was up, that's where recess took place. That's probably the best recess kids had and run around in that Highview Community Playground. I'm just throwing it on the table. Yes, we added a playground in the back, but conditions were different then and now we do have a playground across the street."
"We put that playground behind Highview and that was because we didn't want the kids to cross the street," said Board Member Sarah Chauncey. "Why are we changing this now?"
"The big problem the last time was because of the crossing," said Board President Anne Byrne.
"Right now, Clarkstown has the documents and the engineers are going to be meet," said McNeill. "They (met) and did the original report without speaking to the school district or the principal of the school. The engineer the district hired categorically rejects the recommendations of that engineer's report. It'll be up to the town. The town may side with that original (report) and say you have to have the crosswalk right there along Church Street. We had an there with a student there a few weeks ago right at that intersection. I think that if there were a need ... to evacuate, she's not going to go to that intersection, (Barbara Auriemma) she's going to go right across the street where it's safest, where the crosswalk used to be, to the playground evacuation area."
"One of the major things is where the town is going to put that crosswalk," said Byrne. "When they put it at the intersection, we knew it was very (dangerous) for kids to walk down to that intersection and cross the street so we won't use it. That's why it's crucial that (we know the town's decision."
"I guess the concern with the town is that when you make that left coming up, you're whipping around the corner," said Board Vice President Ron Hansen.
"The old crosswalk provided enough of a buffer to get kids safely across," said Steven Schlanger, assistant superintendent.
Tot Lot Access
"My only concern is that parents have come out and invested a lot of money and effort to create this playground," said Chauncey. "They may feel that now they want to be out with their young children during the day while their kids are not in school yet. And we're telling them that between these hours, they can't use the playground."
"They're going to have a tot lot now. What we used to do is have toddlers not allowed to be there (at the previous wooden castle park playground) during that period of (recess) time. Are we still stating that?," asked Board Member Karen Franchino. "Is it going to be open to the public during the same time children are having recess? This new playground has an actual area for toddlers and we won't be using that."
"That (tot lot) area's not meant for older kids and it's fenced in from the rest of the playground," said Krista Vasti, design chair for the Highview Playground.
"I think the sign should say that it's closed between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.," said Schlanger. "It's the liability. You're going to have a hundred or so students running around the rest of the playground. I would recommend not allowing small children in there at the same time."
"Maybe it could be a couple days a week or something a little more balanced," said CJ Bottitta, Vice President of the Highview Playground.
"It's going to be difficult for people, while school's in session, to find a place to park to use that playground. It's really going to be the people who have strollers and are able to walk nearby. We have teachers right now that park on the north side of Grace Baptist Church and they're walking to work. There's no sidewalk. Where are people going to park when school's in session anyway?
"My understanding is that the pastor of the church said it's no problem with people using his parking lot to use the playground," said Franchino. "His problem would basically be on a Sunday when there are services. He's been very supportive."
"It's a very finite portal to get to the tot lot," said Bottitta. "It's pretty defined for security reasons."
"I do think we need to revisit the 11-1 (recess time)," said Hansen.
"Two Board members are also not here with us tonight so we'll put it on a future agenda when we know what the town's decision on where this crosswalk will be and we have some more data on park usage by the little ones," said Byrne. "I think we need to get it on a future agenda once we know what the town's decision is on the crosswalk. When we have that decision, the playground will be up and going, we'll be able to see what kind of traffic there is over there during the day. Then we'll talk about the (recess) hours. We'll put it on the next board meeting. Until then, it'll be as (a community) playground."
The next board meeting is 7 p.m. Oct. 11 at the Nanuet High School.