Solution to Messy City Hall Park Recess Comes to Tweed School

Principal Maggie Siena on the dusty playground next to Tweed Courthouse in City Hall Park. Photo by Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

When the dust finally settles, Maggie Siena will be a happier principal.

Dust, mud, filth. That’s what the kids have been tracking into her Peck Slip School and what, she says, makes for unhealthy recess—when the ground is dry enough to play on.

This month, it appears, all that is going to change, and from an unlikely source: debris from Hurricane Sandy.

Siena’s school is in its first of three years at the Tweed Courthouse, “incubating” there while a permanent building is under construction. The playground is a pleasant, shady patch of City Hall Park on the east side of the building. But little grass can grow there.

“The kids get dirt in their eyes and breathe in substantial amounts of dust,” Siena said. “The first wet day there were chunks of mud in the classroom. It was unbelievable!”

As far back as last May, long before school started, Siena was asking the Parks Department for a solution. Art­ificial turf, her first choice, was nixed because of its expense, the park’s historic status, and the possibility that part of the African Burial Ground lies below.

In past years, the Parks Department had sodded the area. It was a remedy, at a cost of about $25,000, that lasted nine to 12 months, according to other prin­cipals who started their schools at Tweed.

Bill Castro, the Parks Department’s Manhattan Com­missioner, announced at a Sep­tember community board meeting that Parks would resod in the fall and again in late May. But that plan—partially restricting recess in outdoor-weather months—did not go over well with Siena. And her counterproposal, to cover the ground with wood chips, like those used in Tribeca’s Wash­ington Market Park, got a tepid response from Castro.

“There were no more answers, no more solutions [from Parks],” Siena said of the months that followed. Finally, at urging from the offices of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Sil­ver and Council­woman Margaret Chin, came a familiar- sounding plan: wood chips.

Namshik Yoon, Parks chief of operations, announced the belated solution at a meeting of Silver’s School Over­crowd­ing Task Force. He said Parks staff would visit Floyd Bennett Field in Brook­­­lyn, where hurricane debris is be­ing stored and ground.

“We’ll see what kind of maintenance issues come up but that should alleviate some of the mud issues,” Yoon said.

“It’s promising news seven months after I would like to have gotten it,” Siena said later. “I’m hopeful that it works.”