City 'Chips' In to Fix Recess

Peck Slip School kindergartners play on the new wood chip surface next to Tweed Court­house. Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

The ground floor of the Tweed Courthouse, where the Peck Slip School is temporarily housed, is looking a lot cleaner these days, thanks to an unorthodox move by the city.

Since the school got its start in Tweed in September, the kindergartners had been dirtying their shoes on the grassless play area and tracking dirt into the building.
Until last month, that is, when the barren field in the northeast portion of City Hall Park got a generous covering of wood chips.

One morning last month, a few dozen kindergartners, bundled up in winter gear in the bitter cold, kicked soccer balls and hula-hooped as usual on the park grounds. Principal Maggie Siena watched them with a smile.

“It’s a huge improvement,” said Siena, who began lobbying the Parks Department for a better play surface last May, backed by the office of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. “This is quite tidy-looking, it’s safer for the kids, and [if] we get some more greenery around here, it’ll look quite nice.”

A beautiful lawn would be “fabulous,” she added, “but it’s just not realistic.”
Wood chip surfacing of the city’s parks is uncommon, according to Namshik Yoon, chief of operations for the city Parks Department, which recently laid the covering—marking the largest installation of its kind in Manhattan.

The ground was sodded when P.S. 397 and P.S. 276 were incubated in the building, Yoon noted. But with children playing on it, he said, the soil did not have time to breathe or the sod have a chance to knit. And, unlike grass or artificial turf, the wood chips are cheap and easy to maintain.

“We usually grow grass, but unfortunately, we don’t have that luxury here,” he said. “If we closed that lawn for two months, the kids would go crazy. This is an interim fix that was able to be done with really no cost except labor.”
City maintenance workers, who will add a new layer of chips once a year, will be monitoring the field daily to check for problems, Yoon said.

The wood chips are an early success, as is new fencing, which Yoon said the Parks Department installed to prevent chips from scattering off the field. To beautify the field’s sparsely planted perimeter, workers will add more greenery in the spring.

Rob Glowacki, a special ed teacher at the school who supervises recess, called the setup “fantastic.”

“It’s a safe haven for them to play in,” he said. “The kids are having a blast. [The fence] is high enough where now we can bring out the soccer ball and the kickball.”

In addition to containing the play space, the fencing has also kept the children away from the shrubbery, which occasionally caused accidents during playtime, according to Peck Slip guidance counselor Shelley Hoverman.

“There was some kind of mesh they used when they sodded it, and the kids would be [ripping] that up,” she said. “This is more attractive, and it’s softer.”
And, says Glowacki, the wood chips may help to prevent scrapes and bruises, too. “It lets them take their fall with some grace instead of just falling and sticking,” he said. “Now when they fall, they’re more prone to getting back up.”

At first, in fact, the mulch was so soft that the children looked like they were doing the moonwalk when scampering over it, Siena said, laughing.

As the principal stood amid the frolicking kids, a boy tripped over her foot and fell knee-first into the chips.

“Let’s check it out,” Siena told him as she pulled up the youngster’s pant legs to check for bruises. “You look like you’re going to be okay, my friend!”