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Historic Paterson

Editor, Stephen Kelly

Who says kids don't play anymore? The first through fourth graders at Roberto Clemente Elementary School in Paterson, N.J. certainly make full use of the playground equipment (Landscape Structures), not to mention developing those important social skills.

Playworld Teak Warehouse
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Paterson, N.J. is in the northeast corner of the state, geographically oriented in the Piedmont region between the Appalachian foothills and the coastal plain. Paterson's historic context derives from the 77-foot. tall Great Falls of the Passaic River. The city and its mills grew up around the falls. The waterfall powered the mills here until 1914. The city was particularly known for its silk production in the latter part of the 1800s.

The Roberto Clemente Elementary School project was part of an $8.6 billion state educational initiative to revitalized schools, led by he New Jersey Schools Construction Corp., a subsidiary of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.

If you've never been to the falls, you may have seen them. In season one of The Sopranos, two of Tony's Sopranos' street thugs tossed a drug dealer over the falls. It's a memorable scene, but not the association the city father's would like for their city and the Great Falls Historic District, Paterson's most famous neighborhood.

While a melting pot of Europeans settled in Paterson, many Puerto Ricans have called Paterson home since the 1950s, and more recently there's been immigration from Mexico, Central America and South America.

Drain inlet grates were covered with filter fabric prior to pouring the safety surfacing in place.

An Iconic Figure

The name given to the elementary school--Roberto Clemente--is in honor of one of baseball's greats. Roberto Clemente was Puerto Rico's most famous and beloved baseball export to the major leagues. He played 18 seasons in right field for Pittsburgh (1955 to 1972) and was the National League's Most Valuable Player in 1966. He was a 12-time all-star and won 12 Gold Glove awards.

Roberto did not forget his roots. He was known not only for athletic flair, a quick bat and live arm, but for his humanitarian work. He did charity work in Puerto Rico and other Latin American countries. He was killed in a plane crash in 1972 while on a mission to deliver aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. MLB presents the Roberto Clemente award every year to the player who best exemplifies his humanitarian work. Roberto was elected to the Hall of Fame posthumously in 1973, the first Latin American selected to the Hall.

The basketball court has a 3" asphalt plant mix layer, a 1.5" fine asphalt mix atop that and a colored athletic wearing surface. The steel picket fencing at the basketball court is 12-feet. tall where it borders the sidewalk and street. A cast-in-place concrete retaining wall separates the end of the court from the fence and sidewalk. Precast concrete landscape curbs, outdoor stair treads and seatwall copings are throughout the site to complement the building.

The School

Roberto Clemente Elementary School serves grades 1-4. Three-quarters of the kids are Hispanic, and about 20 percent are Afro-Americans. The school has an excellent student/teacher ratio: seven students for every full-time teacher. The New Jersey average is an 11 to 1 ratio.

The younger children's play area has age-appropriate equipment, such as the stainless steel double chute slide, a 90 degree funnel bridge, plus spring toys and painted games. Brick veneers wrap around corners and walls by planting areas.

The Project

The Roberto Clemente Elementary School project was part of a $8.6 billion state educational initiative to revitalized schools, led by he New Jersey Schools Construction Corp., a subsidiary of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.

Langan Engineering & Environmental Services of Elmwood Park, N.J. provided complete site/civil engineering, landscape architectural and geotechnical engineering services for the new 115,000 sq. ft. elementary school.

The poured-in-place safety surfacing for the playground is a .5" coat of EPDM and urethane atop a 3" base mat of styrene butadiene rubber and urethane. Beneath the mat is a 4" bituminous base course. The safety surfacing extends a minimum of 6' in all directions from the perimeter of the playground equipment. That distance is increased to 8' from fences or walls.

Langan has provided a wide array of technical and regulatory services at numerous public school projects, varying from preliminary evaluation to construction.

The firm's particular experience and expertise in evaluating and designing projects in densely populated urban areas brought significant value to the program. The firm's approach to integrating new school facilities into the existing urban environment is to provide practical, functional and sustainable design solutions.

Hanging apparatuses include this 90-degree horizontal loop ladder.

At multiple proposed sites throughout the state, Langan performed comprehensive environmental due diligence, completed site feasibility analysis and pre-design studies, identified short-term demolition and site cleanup liabilities, as well as long-term site/civil, geotechnical and environmental issues that could affect new school construction.

Langan earned an excellence award for its overall contribution to the New Jersey school construction program from the American Council of Engineering Companies of New Jersey.

The street trees have traditional cobblestone tree pits on all four street frontages. The 5-inch by 5-inch cobbles were installed hand-tight on a sand-setting bed. Steel picket perimeter fencing along the street is 12 feet tall surrounding the basketball court and 8 feet tall around the perimeter. A 3 foot fence separates the plaza area from the play area.


Langan reports the new school construction for Roberto Clemente Elementary was complicated by engineering challenges, including shoring of adjacent street-beds to accommodate a deep earthwork cut, coupled with high stormwater detention requirements. The unique design approach placed faculty parking in the rear courtyard and integrated multiple outdoor school and community play spaces in the front courtyard.

The tree pits in the front courtyard have three inches of stabilized crushed stone to provide a walkable surface, soften the hardscape, allow stormwater infiltration and offer a flexible paving surface that is more forgiving for tree roots. Urban-tolerant thornless common honeylocusts were planted in a broken grid fashion, mimicking building column lines. Trees were planted in continuous tree pits to maximize combined planting soil volume.

Continuous tree pits included tree pit drainage, irrigation and aeration piping to promote robust growth and a canopy ceiling for shade and winter interest.

The front courtyard, transected by entrance walks lined with plantings, decorative lighting and seating nodes, is organized into separate play spaces through a grid of trees, planter areas, seating walls, curbs and paving materials. Paving materials included stabilized crushed stone paving in tree pits, poured-in-place safety surfacing and colored concrete paving throughout.

Twelve spray heads (Vortex Aquatic Structures) are flush to the grade and designed to be concealed in the colored concrete paving and maximize the use of the front courtyard during off-season months. The adjustable spray heads have tamper-resistant adjustable brass spray caps.

The heart of the courtyard is an open play space cut into the grade with outdoor classroom seating and in-ground aquatic play features. Other amenities include a play equipment area, separate kindergarten play area with spring toys and painted games, and a basketball court.

Langan's other responsibilities included a subsurface investigation for site structural elements, environmental assessment report, preparation of technical specifications and boundary and topography surveys.

Arm-mounted Glowtop cylindrical semi-spherical cutoff luminaires (Hubble Lighting) are high-intensity lamps on 14.5' poles that provide good security lighting for the front entrance courtyard and playground. The single piece cast aluminum housings have vandal resistant lenses. The luminaries for the parking lot and basketball court are mounted on 22-ft. poles (Kim Lighting). The numbers and letter games were painted on the finish poured-in-place safety surface.

Roberto Clemente Elementary School
Paterson, N.J.

Paterson Public Schools

New Jersey Schools
Development Authority (NJSEA)

Einhorn Yaffee Prescott
Architecture & Engineering P.C. (EYP)

Landscape Architect:
Langan Engineering & Environmental Services, Elmwood Park, N.J.
Services: Site / Civil Engineering - Landscape / Site Architecture Design - Urban Design - Lighting Design,
Storm Water Detention - Retaining Wall Design - Subsurface Investigation - Site Survey - Preparation of Construction
Documents and Specifications

Construction Managers (joint venture)
Jacobs/ Epic

General Contractor
VRH Construction

Site Contractor

Landscape Contractor
Valley Landscape Inc.

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December 9, 2019, 10:10 am PDT

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