Safety Worries Prompt Cautious Start for Much-Needed School Play Street

Double police barriers now stand at each end of the Peck Slip School play street, in part to ensure that children do not run to the very end of the protected street. The school was able to open the play street after the operator of the parking lot, at left, agreed to close its entrance and exit on Peck Slip. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib 

Oct. 24, 2017

A play street for the Peck Slip School, long sought and much needed to relieve the building’s increasingly limited space for outdoor recess, is finally getting its rollout. But ever so cautiously.

Parents got their wish for a city-approved play street on Peck Slip, between Pearl and Water streets, just before the start of the school year. That meant the chance for outdoor recess and supervised after-school play on the traffic-free street between 7:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. But recent episodes of terror-bent drivers careening into crowds have given some of those parents pause, and raised questions about how to guard their children against the unthinkable.

“We live in a world where we are constantly reminded of how unsafe things are. We’re trying as a community to balance that with the need for our children to play outside,” said Emily Hellstrom, president of the Peck Slip School PTA. “So we have to make things as safe as they can be without tipping into wrapping our kids in cotton wool.”

On Monday, the school was able to put up a second layer of police barriers at each end of the street, a measure that is seen as less than ideal, but providing an added sense of security as school leaders work out a plan to gradually open the street to small numbers of kids for recess. (The school already closes off the street in front of the building at drop-off and pick-up times.)

“One teacher with a group of kids, sporadically during the day, is a little different from 100 kids during regular hours being out on the street,” Peck Slip Principal Maggie Siena said.

“We’re doing our best to get things going as quickly as possible,” she added, “but we don’t want to compromise safety.”

It is yet to be seen what more formidable barriers could be installed. School leaders have mentioned a possible desire for removable bollards, if the city can be convinced to install them.

No sooner had the school opened in its new building in September 2015 than the rooftop play yard was already too small, Siena said. The space squeeze, she noted back then, meant that one grade at lunch and recess had to play indoors in the school’s cacophonous combination gym and auditorium. And that was before the school had grown to its present size, with the addition of 4th and 5th graders.

Siena and Community Board 1 began advocating for a play street in front of the school. But they hit a roadblock from LAZ Parking, the operator of the parking lot across the street, who insisted on maintaining its entrance and exit on Peck Slip. In August, just in time for the start of school, the operator acceded to the request. Last month, Steve Rossi of Milstein Properties, the site’s owner, and Robert Correa, LAZ Parking’s general manager, received a certificate of appreciation from CB1 for “contributing to the health and safety of our community’s children.”

But the safety part, school leaders say, is still a work in progress.