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PEAK preschool design not good enough
PEAK, the Boys & Girls Club project aiming to lease land from the School District, pushed through new City codes and got School funds on the basis that its teen center/club/field house is good for kids. Its design, released for public comment, shows serious flaws that compromise child safety and outdoor play.
Because the building is too big for its site, inferior decisions have compromised safety and subtracted features. The outdoor play space for four sets of 20-25 preschoolers, and 60 children in the Boys & Girls Club’s elementary care program is flawed.
The grass play area provides insufficient play options for children. There is no play space other than this green which is rendered unusable after rain. There is no all-weather surface play area; nowhere to ride trikes or bounce balls. There is no playground, no digging area, no shade. The value of outdoor play is well established - a gym is not an acceptable alternative. PEAK’s suggestion to share playgrounds of neighboring programs has been checked twice to be impossible as those playgrounds are continually occupied.
The green’s lack of safety is a parent’s nightmare. The green is not fenced. Children can run off to the parking lot, around the building, onto the campus fields, and into the building. No amount of supervision can substitute for a fence with a gate. Even with a gate, the children’s green is pierced by two sidewalks from around the building. No child play area should be criss-crossed with sidewalks, encountering teens, adults, and other strangers.
Ten directors of MI preschools - from Early World to JCC - looked at these plans and were appalled. Children’s play space should be securely fenced and private; play options should be diverse and available.
Design forced by a supersized building impacts safety elsewhere. Teens will congregate and enter PEAK at the same two entrances as younger children. The School Board and parents were sold on PEAK’s promise of separate entrances for teen and children, but it was lost.
Teens, parents, children have long, unmonitored walks to the facility. PEAK relies on a new code deviation permitting shared parking spaces and shares three MISD lots. PEAK attendees will wind their way between MISD buildings, through parking lots, and around the 176-foot wall of the field house to its entrance.
With parking lots filled at unrealistic levels, drivers coming and going for their children will become impatient with the congestion in the lots, spilling out onto 86th Ave. S.E. Two outside traffic engineers suggest that unsafe mid-lot and mid-street pick-ups and drop-offs are likely inevitable.
Can these flaws be remedied with redesign or waved away with managerial mitigation? No. PEAK forced a new threshold of impervious (paved) surface but still exceeds it (and needs a variance) so no more playground surface. It is in a site too small for its building, so parking lots lose their storage lane, the teens lose their entrance, and the field house entrance (probably the busiest) is the farthest from the largest parking lot.
Reduce the size of the building, and parking, traffic, and play issues emerge remarkably easier to conquer. Keep a small Boys & Girls Club for the younger set and the fields on West Mercer Way with a teen center/field house remaining on the North Mercer campus, and you separate the teens and have sufficient space for children to play outside.
The School District has a choice as to whether it approves a lease with PEAK, condoning design which shortchanges children’s safety and play, or it can demand a well-designed, appropriately-sized facility. Is it an issue of expediency or the kids?
Islander Stowe Sprague is a recognized preschool advocate.