New Play Street for West Village Kids

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Community Board 2 recently approved the application for a play space on Grove Street

Despite vociferous opposition from some neighbors of the school, Community Board 2 on Jan. 21 approved a one-year trial in which part of Grove Street would be closed off during school hours to provide a makeshift recreation yard for students of Public School 3, Charrette Elementary School. The proposal now goes to the New York City Department of Transportation for review.

"This dire need for outdoor play space has been exacerbated by an increase of over 200 students, which the school's tiny rooftop space is too small to safely handle," said Transportation Committee Chair Shirley Secunda.

She went on to cite the growing risk of diabetes among children today and federal health guidelines that call for at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day, something she said is "exceptionally important for P.S. 3 children, who greatly need respite from the school's crowded and confining conditions."

While several speakers in attendance expressed their eagerness to support the well-being of the neighborhood's children, the constant huffs, shaking heads, and interruptions among the audience indicated this issue is far from settled, even after a nearly unanimous vote by CB 2 to proceed with the plan and tearful pleas for cooperation.

The school building itself dates to 1905 and is now hemmed in on all sides by astronomically expensive real estate in one of Manhattan's most desirable neighborhoods, which has outgrown its historic role as a haven of beatniks and hippies to become an enclave of wealthy celebrities. On picturesque Grove Street, the center of the debate, townhouses have sold for upward of $10 million.

And while couples once fled to the suburbs when they started having children, that's no longer true. Downtown neighborhoods are now brimming with children, and in the case of P.S. 3, there's no easy way to accommodate them all and provide them with the standard amenities. P.S. 3 currently has 800 students, but in a startling contrast with suburban schools, it has no gym or auditorium.

Thus, P.S. 3 is bursting at the seams, and with no place left to expand, school officials, with the advice of the city's Play Streets program, are aiming to block off traffic for several hours a day and allow the students to play in the stretch of Grove Street directly in front of the school.

While officials involved in the plan say they sought community input, a series of visibly angry speakers at the meeting begged to differ.

Several criticized the parties involved in the Play Streets concept for only giving them a few days' notice before the Transportation Committee approved the idea, which they say indicated a long period of planning done in secrecy.

The most annoyed speakers seemed to live closest to the school, on the stretch of Grove that would be closed off. At least two remembered a similar project from several years ago, describing it as a "disaster" and "harrowing," since their lives were marred by screaming children right outside their windows for several hours a day, which made it impossible to do business with clients from home. Other concerns were litter, liability for injuries, blocked vehicle access, and kids just running wild.

Speaking after the meeting, P.S. 3 parent coordinator Terry Spring-Robinson confirmed that the school had moved recess into the street at times in the past, when, for example, there was construction under way inside the school property, but she denied that quality of life had suffered disastrously.

"I understand that people are worried about their homes, but the children are not going to be playing ball, so they won't have their windows broken. These are small, elementary-aged children, and they will be supervised at all times. It's a lovely neighborhood and I think it will all work out," she said.

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