Four more Atlanta schoolyards picked for public parks renovation

Four more Atlanta school playgrounds will be redesigned to go from recess to neighborhood recreation.

The Atlanta Community Schoolyards project is an effort to transform school playgrounds into public parks that serve students during the school day and are open to residents after the final bell rings and on weekends. Students get to help redesign the spaces, and donations will pay for about $110,000 in construction upgrades at each site.

The goal is to create more accessible green space across the city — parks that residents can enjoy within a short walk of their homes.

Last year, the program launched at Kimberly and Dobbs elementary schools, where crews plan to begin construction this month after securing city permits. Because of the coronavirus, Atlanta Public Schools will start the school year with virtual-only instruction, and the sites will open once officials deem that they can do so safely.

This summer, four additional schools have been picked for the program: Centennial Academy, Harper-Archer Elementary School, Miles Elementary School and Sarah Smith Elementary School.

Tequila Lamar, head of school for Centennial Academy, is looking forward to opening up the schoolyard to families who want to play there on the weekends. The academy is located on Luckie Street near Georgia Tech.

“This provides an opportunity for those families just to walk to a neighborhood park and have that green space that they would not ordinarily have,” she said.

The school’s curriculum focuses on science, technology, engineering, arts and math. Fifth and sixth grade students will get to help with the design process.

Lamar said it will be a good opportunity for students to use their critical thinking skills, work in teams, problem solve and contribute to a project that “outlives their time at Centennial.” All students will get a chance to give input on what the renovated site should look like.

They’ll begin that work virtually.

“I think some are worried that school is not happening and everything is on pause. It really isn’t,” Lamar said. “Having this type of project to show what is possible even in this virtual environment — we can look forward to a great green space.”

The Trust for Public Land is working on the schoolyards project with Urban Land Institute Atlanta, Park Pride and APS. The goal is to remake 10 school sites over three years.

Before the pandemic, some Atlanta school playgrounds were fenced and locked, which kept the residents from using those spaces. Ultimately, park groups want the district to make all schoolyards publicly accessible, and they’ve been working with the district to figure out how to handle maintenance and security issues.

Rachel Sprecher, executive director of partnerships and development for APS, said the district has heard from a lot of people during the coronavirus who want to use walking tracks and basketball courts on the district’s property. Those are closed because of the pandemic, but she said the strong interest shows that people value those spaces.

The work that will happen at the four additional schools will transform those sites into “places that are really for the public and for the neighborhood,” she said.

The finished designs for Dobbs and Kimberly both feature playground equipment, and they also include new signs, shade structures and seating which will help the schoolyard serve double duty as a park.

At both sites, plans call for moving the location of the playground area so that it’s more accessible.

“It’s welcoming the community in a way that they weren’t welcome before,” said George Dusenbury, Georgia state director for The Trust for Public Land.