City 'Chips' in to Make Mud-Free Recess for the Peck Slip School

Peck Slip School kindergartners play on the new wood chip surface next 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 beginning its “incubation” in Tweed in September, the kindergarteners had been dirtying their shoes on the grassless play area and tracking it into the building. Until last week, that is, when the barren field in the northeast portion of City Hall Park, got a generous covering of wood chips.

On Tuesday, a few dozen kindergarteners, bundled up in winter gear in the bitter cold, kicked soccer balls and hula hooped as usual on the park grounds, but with a noticeable difference, said Principal Maggie Siena as she watched them with a smile.

“It’s a huge improvement,” said Siena, who had begun petitioning for a better play surface last May, long before the school’s opening. “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. But sodding the field hasn’t worked, Yoon noted, because the play-hungry children don’t give the soil time to breathe or the sod 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.

The wood chips are an early success, as is the 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 kick ball.”

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, adding, “There was some kind of mesh they used when they sodded it, and the kids would be [ripping] that up. This is more attractive, and it’s softer.”

And, says Glowacki, it may help to avoid scrapes and bruises, too. “It kind of lets them take their fall with some grace instead of just falling and sticking,” he said. “Now when they fall, they’re just 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 with a laugh.

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!”