Path to Better Play at Sumner School

There has been quite a bit of play-related progress at the Charles Sumner School recently that we are excited to share. But before getting into the details, mark your calendar for a Sumner School play space visioning session this Sunday, October 23, 2016 at 1 pm in the community room at Roslindale House. We are pleased to announce that this session will be led by representatives from the Boston Society of Architects, a recent (and welcome) addition to the Sumner design team we had assembled last year.

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Progress and a Setback

As we have previously shared, over the past two years Roslindale Wants to Play has partnered with the Sumner Parent Council to redesign the school’s unused rear walkway into a dynamic new play area. That process had just produced its first design iteration when the school’s existing play structure was destroyed by arson in May. As a result of that terrible event, Roslindale Wants to Play and the Sumner Parent Council halted their redesign efforts in order to assess options and the position of the city on the playground redevelopment.

Boston Public Schools committed to replacing the arson-destroyed structure fairly quickly, but the proposed replacement would hardly be larger than the destroyed structure and would do little to address the demand placed on it by the growing school population. Last year students typically had only half an hour each week allotted to use the play structure, and this fall enrollment reached an all-time high of 620 students. Also, while the old structure was largely static and unimaginative, more recent design standards treat risk-tolerant play as an integral part of a child’s development and education. Although BPS has not yet fully adopted truly forward-thinking design standards for its play spaces, the Sumner community opted not to settle for another uninspired design and instead make the most of this otherwise inopportune situation by more fully exploring the schoolyard’s potential.

An Evolving Plan

Following the school community’s decision, Roslindale Wants to Play (represented by Adam Rogoff who is also a Sumner parent) and the Sumner Parent Council, led by Amanda Lukens and Allison Jacobs Friedmann, began work towards realizing a more comprehensive, creative redesign that will better meet the needs of the school children. The team worked with City Council President Michelle Wu and Councilor Tim McCarthy to request that the city undertake the comprehensive design and budget for a more extensive play yard. Thanks in large part to the two councilors’ strong support, BPS has committed to this process.

Meanwhile, the public’s response to the fire was a great affirmation of our community. In the days following the fire the Parent Council set up a Crowdrise fundraising page and with other efforts raised approximately $47,000 toward a new play area. Also, as a result of a connection from Sumner science teacher Theresa Lee, the Boston Society of Architects offered to undertake a pro bono schematic redesign of the lower play area through its Community Design Resource Center. This redesign will proceed in collaboration with the original design team for the upper walkway. We are grateful for such a strong design team and anticipate that the redesign will thoughtfully integrate the two play areas and provide a wide range of play and educational options for the school’s entire age range. As noted above, this design process begins Sunday, October 23, 2016. We encourage anyone interested in helping to shape the Sumner play yard to join us.

Short Term Improvements

With a long term solution underway, sights were then set on finding interim play opportunities for the 1-2 year redesign and construction process. City Council President Michelle Wu quickly raised funds to acquire a PlayCubes set (pictured above). As you may have seen in our earlier blog post, the PlayCubes were installed on September 24 during a well-attended community build. Donors for the PlayCubes include the Suffolk Foundation ($15,000), the Painters & Allied Trades District Council 35 ($5,000), TruGreen ($2,000), Anthony Pangaro ($1,000), and all four at-large city councilors. The PlayCubes were selected because the set located on the Greenway in Chinatown has been widely popular and because the structure can be relocated fairly easily. We anticipate that once the Sumner redesign is complete the PlayCubes will be used by the city as temporary installation at other schools and playgrounds to mitigate the loss of play options during normal playground renovations. In this way this PlayCubes set will produce dividends for children throughout the city over many years.

Finally, thanks to the great work of Allison Jacobs Friedmann the school will be receiving next month an Imagination Playground set (like the set that mysteriously appeared at Fallon Field over the summer), paid for by a KaBOOM! grant funded by The Target Foundation. This too will help to mitigate the loss of the play structure until the new, improved play area is complete.

In our opinion, the progress at Sumner reflects an important shift in the collective involvement of the community and our political leaders in ensuring that meaningful playground improvements come to our neighborhood.  Not satisfied with a cookie cutter structure, the school community advocated for a better solution from the city, fundraised a substantial amount, and even came together to build the interim replacement.  The results are already being enjoyed by Roslindale children.

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