Some Southeast Raleigh families who don’t have convenient access to city parks may soon be able to use two elementary schools to help meet their outdoor recreation needs.
The City of Raleigh and the Wake County school system are looking at partnering to upgrade the outdoor facilities at Poe and Walnut Creek elementary schools so they can be used by both students and local families. Officials say the partnership would address “play deserts” – where low-income children do not have accessible opportunities to play – that surround the two Southeast Raleigh schools.
“These are some spots where we’re the only green space for quite a ways around,” Betty Parker, Wake’s senior director of real estate services, told a school board committee this week. “It was a good opportunity for the marriage of our two needs.”
Both the Raleigh City Council and the Wake County school board will vote Tuesday on a two-year agreement to share use of the facilities.
Scott Payne, assistant director of the Raleigh Parks and Recreation Department. said the city identified play deserts where people don’t live within a half-mile of a city park. He said the city worked with the school system to identify schools in “resource limited areas.”
The concept is similar to identifying parts of Southeast Raleigh where residents don’t have convenient access to a grocery store offering healthy foods as “food deserts.”
Poe Elementary is located on Peyton Street near Poole Road. Walnut Creek Elementary is on Sunnybrook Road near Rock Quarry Road.
Under the proposed agreement, Raleigh will upgrade each school’s gravel track to an asphalt track, create an outdoor classroom structure and build sidewalk extensions so people can reach the play areas. Parker said the outdoor structure is like a picnic shelter.
Raleigh would use a $208,000 grant from the John Rex Endowment to cover all the costs for the project.
The outdoor areas would be open for public use when school is not in session, such as weekends, after-school hours and on school holidays. Parker said the sites are meant for “unstructured play” as opposed to people playing in teams.
Raleigh would provide custodial services during the hours when the areas are in public use. The city would also reimburse the school system for the cost of any damage that occurs during public use.
If approved, Payne said the upgrades would be done over the summer and completed by the time the next school year begins in August.
School board member Bill Fletcher said his father, the late Fred Fletcher, would have applauded the concept. Fred Fletcher was a longtime parks advocate who served as chairman of the Raleigh Parks and Recreation Commission from 1956 to 1985.
The school board’s facilities committee, which Fletcher chairs, backed the agreement.
“This is some place where you can take your children, your family and enjoy a time in a green space that ideally there’s no nails, there’s no glass,” Fletcher said. “It’s a safe place to be outside.”