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Philly's Field of Dreams:
Bayard Taylor's Playground Hit


Kyle Cavaness, LASN





In 2012, a local charity led an effort to convert Bayard Taylor Elementary School's play area, formerly a dilapidated blacktop lot, into a functional and friendly playground for the school's K-5 students. The playspace filled a long-standing need in the Hunting Park neighborhood of Philadelphia, Penn., which lacked an outdoor play area or park within a 10-block radius around the school.


Built in 1907-08, Bayard Taylor Elementary School has educated kindergarten through 5th-grade students in the Hunting Park neighborhood of Philadelphia, Penn., for more than a century. Named for Bayard Taylor, a 19th-century poet, author and Pennsylvania native, the school was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

Despite the site's storied history, children attending Bayard Taylor were used to spending their recesses playing and exercising on an unkempt blacktop that resembled a derelict parking lot. With no other parks or outdoor play areas within a 10-block radius of the school, the lot, unfortunately, was the safest playspace in the area.

Enter Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher, three-time All-Star and World Series Most Valuable Player in 2008. The Hamels Foundation, started by Cole and his wife Heidi in 2008, has donated $660,000 to 20 public schools in Philadelphia and $1.8 million worldwide to improve education. Grants have gone toward outdoor garden programs, fitness centers, science labs, music and performing arts programs, libraries, after-school athletic programs and team uniforms. The foundation has been boosting Bayard TayIor programs for several years, beginning in 2009, when the group gave the school new walkie-talkies. In 2010, they donated $12,000 for a new allergy free auditorium curtain, followed by another $2,500 in 2011 for socialized recess kits.

 




A rope climbing structure called the Explorer Dome (Kompan) is the new playground's highlight. A basketball court, spinners, climbing structures and other playground equipment fill out the 4,000 square foot play area.



If You Build It . . .
In 2012, the Hamels Foundation set its sights on a loftier goal, electing to sponsor a signature project in Philadelphia that would go above and beyond previous efforts. On June 1, the foundation donated $300,000 for a complete outdoor renovation of Bayard Taylor's outdoor space. Designs included a new playground, a greenhouse with raised planter beds, an iPad workstation sponsored by Wells Fargo, a soccer field and a refurbished basketball court.

Educational components include chess and checker tables in addition to the workspaces (DuMor), and aesthetic elements include new trees, landscaping beds and murals, one of which depicts Hamel's wind-up.

Altogether, the project's cost would have exceeded the $300,000 grant by a large margin; however, the school received several thousand dollars' worth of donated services, equipment and manpower, including the efforts of more than 150 volunteers to finish the project in time for the 2012 school year.

Cole and Heidi Hamels were on hand to help volunteers with the finishing touches, and cut the ribbon to open the playground to the public on August 8, 2012. Today, the school boasts "probably one of the nicest playgrounds in Philadelphia," said Keith Grimley of Kompan, the playground manufacturer that designed and equipped the play area.

 




Workstations, chess and checker tables (DuMor) and an iPad/technology space provide creative and artistic outlets adjacent to the play structures. The playground remains open on weekends, providing local children with a safe, accessible outlet for active play.



An Unexpected Epilogue
Just months after the opening, Bayard Taylor staff and students were shocked to find out that the school, and its newly refurbished playground, was on a list of 66 Philadelphia-area schools that might be shut down due to school district budget restrictions.

School staff and concerned parents fought the Facilities Master Plan drafted by the district's School Reform Commission, which would have closed Bayard Taylor and sent the school's 575 students to Roberto Clemente Promise Academy. The merger would have nearly doubled the latter school's size, and would have placed Bayard Taylor's kindergarten-aged students alongside nearly grown middle-schoolers.

After months of meetings, the reform commission voted on March 7, 2013, to spare Bayard Taylor, though 23 of the district's 250 schools were ultimately selected for closure. Despite the reprieve, the district's five-year plan to close a budget gap of $218 million (as of fiscal year 2013) could cloud the school's future. In the meantime, however, Bayard Taylor students can climb, slide and swing their way across the new playground, all beneath Cole Hamel's watchful wind-up.







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December 8, 2019, 8:29 am PDT

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