Jackson School learns the importance of play

By September 18, 2014News

The Passyunk Square site benefits big from two companies’ charitable support.

by Bill Chenevert

Lisa Kaplan started her fifth year as the principal of the Jackson School, 1213 S. 13th St., with her recess space under construction. But she couldn’t have been happier. With the help of a community invested in local pre-K to eighth grade education, her students are the lucky beneficiaries of nearly $200,000 of donated materials, labor and fundraising.

“When I became the principal here, I called it the concrete jungle,” Kaplan joked, explaining the dire conditions of her previously empty and lackluster recess space.

“Long story short, it’s in, it’s awesome and I think it just shows the community that we are a public school that really has a lot of love coming towards us from the neighborhood and the community, and people understand how important these things are to the growth of children,” she said, standing in front of the multi-sport court and jungle gym dome that was celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday.

Mayor Michael A. Nutter was in attendance at Saturday’s ceremony, as was 1st District City Councilman Mark Squilla, a host of volunteers and parents, but also, most significantly, two of the driving forces behind securing funding and building the two structures: Alterra Properties’ Leo Addimando and The EnVision Group E-Built’s Jim Maransky.

“I started working with a lot of people to get something in the schoolyard to benefit the kids and I started working with Jim Maransky from E-Built and Chrstine Priven from PlayInBetween,” Kaplan said, saying she’d been hoping for help to materialize and it was in the early planning process for years.

Maransky was taking a continuing education class at Temple when he met Joseph Manko, an attorney who introduced Maransky to Priven.

“Christine and I had a meeting and she said ‘Hey, I’m trying to get a playground for Jackson Elementary — would you join the effort?’” Maransky remembered. “We were working on it for about six months, and Leo and I were talking about another project on storm management.”

Addimando is the builder and developer behind the Wharton Street Lofts, 1148 Wharton St., and he’d been working on implementing a stormwater management roof garden with Maransky.

“His project was one block away from the school where we were trying to get this done, and Leo came in and said he would donate for it, between $10 and $20,000,” Maransky explained.

A good chunk of the project’s early funding came from the Olitsky Family Foundaiton, as well. But then something really cool happened. In working on the rooftop garden, Maransky told Addimando about a Stormwater Management Incentives Program grant through the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation. Alterra won a nearly $80,000 grant and turned around and donated it to the playground.

Maransky is quick to recognize Addimando’s gesture as philanthropy — his Wharton Lofts project has no direct stake in Jackson School’s health. The grant-turned-donation “got us up to $100k. We threw a fundraiser on the rooftop of the Wharton Street Lofts and basically raised almost $60 to $70,000, which got us close enough to say ‘We’re gonna do this,’” Maransky said.

The build took about three weeks, and Jackson’s student population is already crawling all over the climbing dome and sport court. Kaplan said she has three lunches and five recess periods per day with one for pre-K, one for kindergarten and the other three spread out between grades one through eight. She also shared some dismal numbers.

“I lost $185,000 from my budget since I’ve been here ,and I’ve grown 160 kids,” Kaplan confessed, adding “I just lost all of my kindergarten aids because I couldn’t afford to buy them.”

But with recent grassroots-organized green roof renovations, and a guest from Shipley school who came in and painted the school’s gym, Kaplan’s pleased to see the good will continue to imbue the school with positivity.

“It just gets worse and worse but when you are receptive to things like this, they seem to come your way,” she said.

“We try to get involved in communities where we’re going to develop and thankfully we were in a financial position to lead it,” Addimando said, and noted that these kinds of projects carry extra significance due to the public school system’s crippling budget restraints.

“Public education in Philadelphia is probably the single biggest problem the city has to tackle,” Addimando added. “If we can just do our little part and build a $100,000 playground, then that’s great.”

The $200,000 grand total for the project included some beautification projects, a peaceful bench and pergola to honor a student who passed away at Jackson last school year and also, crucially, an aid to assist during recess through Playworks, an organization that “believes recess and play can unlock our kids’ superpowers.”

“What they’re there to do is engage the children in constructive, productive activities during their recess — it keeps kids from hurting each other, it teaches them life skills, motor skills and teamwork,” Addimando explained, a program he funded last year and, with the raised funds, will be returning this year. It’s also “an extra set of eyes,” he said.

Both structures are lined and anchored by a poured apoxy and rubber fall protection surface and it’s not cheap. “We didn’t skimp. We did it right,” Addimando said. Maransky noted that the rubber itself adds up to about $40,000 and the rest of the equipment, some of it donated by Kompan, totaled nearly $100,000.

“My company and I donated personally, and we did all the design and construction for free. That’s really how it came together,” Maransky said, and broke down how important that is to the process. “They got a $160,000 playground at actual costs. If you were to put it out for bid for private construction, it would be closer to $250 to $300,000.”

“We didn’t handle any of the funding; it all went through Passyunk Square [Civic Association], which is a great partner to the school,” Kaplan said. “You do it because ultimately it’s only about what’s good for kids and the community has really rallied behind this school and it has been awesome.”

“The kids love it. They absolutely love it and they respect it,” the principal added. “It creates a whole different type of recess for us and so far the kids have been really, really enjoying it.”

Staff Writer Bill Chenevert at bchenevert@southphillyreview.com or ext. 117.