AnconaOLS_01Dear Ancona parents,

Have you seen the Outdoor Learning Space (OLS) taking shape? This is an exciting time! Visit our Facebook page and look at pictures of our progress, and videos from the perspective of the bucket scooper on the backhoe!

We really wanted to premiere the OLS on the first day of school, and instead, students will see multiple unveilings over this month because of construction’s typical (and unwelcome) delays that follow every well-planned project. Our summer campers and All Year Montessori students have been following this same process closely. In true Ancona fashion, students can monitor and update the steps of construction, and recognize what goes into — and underneath! — the facilities all around them.

We will be having the same amount of recess and playtime, but off-site at local parks. Namely, these will be Kenwood Park (south of the Ancona School) and the unnamed park at 47th Street near Lake Shore Drive. We are taking extra precautions to make sure this goes off smoothly, and all our teachers are pitching in to make sure kids get all the playtime they need, just like they would at the OLS.

  • If you haven’t yet submitted your child(ren)’s emergency form(s), please do so immediately.  Teachers will carry these to the park.
  • Please send your children to school every day with:
    • a water bottle
    • sunscreen
    • shoes appropriate for playing in the park (closed toe, good traction, good support)
  • Teachers will have their cell phone with them, a first aid kit, and an epi-pen (for students with a prescription).
  • On inclement weather days, recess will be held inside between available spaces.
  • Although we have had no problems in the past, we are seeking extra police presence at the two parks during our recess times.
  • We are also reaching out to Shoesmith Elementary, which uses Kenwood Park very regularly, for coordination and collaboration
  • After-school recess will be held indoors from 3:15-3:30

Some parents are volunteering to help chaperone kids to and from the park. Thank you! If your teacher reaches out to you for this help, you will feel so good by pitching in. (What a great excuse for getting outside for exercise!) And if your child has a midday appointment scheduled (say, a doctor or dentist), please understand that if the class has already left for recess, we will try to reunite your child with the classroom for recess, but sometimes your child may need to wait with an adult at the school until they return.

After much planning and anticipation, we are going to have an amazing space for kids to play, unlike anything else I have ever seen. Some believe the playground will be famous. We are so very fortunate to have this for our community! I will write again with updates as the OLS makes more progress.

Thank you for your enthusiasm and cooperation, and welcome back!

Frequently Asked Questions

Why isn’t the Outdoor Learning Space open in time for school?

We have been assured that the entire playground will be open for play by the end of September. Our timeline for this project was tightly aligned with the beginning of school, but we ran into delays when we discovered some soil was contaminated and needed deeper excavation and special disposal. We completed this and the playground is even safer because of it. Most other delays have had to do with the fabrication of the playground apparatus itself. Outsourced pipe benders in Quebec had a traditional week-long holiday, for instance, and the Canadian playground manufacturer has been working nights and weekends to make up the time. They are making sure this landmark playground meets all of its high safety standards. By their own assessment, they see this custom design (planned with Ancona’s Harelik Award-winning parents/architects, Sarah Dunn and Martin Felsen) as welcoming close attention by city officials and playground industry colleagues, so they are trying to meet especially high standards.

What’s left to be done on constructing the playground?

In Canada, they have received all the pipes and already bent them — a rather amazing process for pipes significantly wider than what you usually see in Chicago playgrounds. First, they will conduct a dry-fitting to make sure all the pieces connect safely. Next, they send them out to be powder-coated (painted). On September 14, they will load the playground parts onto trucks — including all 27 legs! — and prepare to get through customs at the border, in addition to the 12-hour drive down here from Ontario. As long as no other manufacturing problems delay that time period, the delivery will come around September 16. Weather could interfere with our construction, too, such as rain that prevents a cement pour. On the other hand, the contractor that has been working with us on preparing the ground and foundations has often run ahead of schedule, been neat and exacting, so we have confidence that the work will be top quality.

Why can’t the field be done earlier?

In fact, it can! We plan to have multiple unveilings of the Outdoor Learning Space as soon as each one is ready. By our current plan, we expect to be able to open the following portions sooner than the playground:

    • A two-person swing at the north end of the play space, fenced off from the construction area for safety.
    • The nature area at the south end of the play space (outside the gym), including the sand area and water area, and another two-person swing.
    • The gravel track around the field will be open even while the fenced-in sod is taking root for 2-3 weeks. After it takes root, we will open the field, probably around the same time as the playground.

But my kid needs to play!

We agree! We are preserving their scheduled recess and PE time. They will play in lots of places. As you read in the plan above, we will use two parks, the Gym, the Commons, and room 104 during these times, in addition to their classrooms, where kids opted to stay on inclement weather days.

What about teams that need to use the field?

The only team that needs the field is Flag Football, and those parents are already using our solution. After dropping off athletes at Ancona, Flag Football will practice at the 47th St. park, and student pickup will be at Ancona at the end. Tayé is in touch with all these parents, but call her at 773-924-2356 x233 or write to her if you have questions.

What about fire drills and evacuations?

Actually, only two rooms have to change their evacuation plans, and even then by only a few steps to get out to their designated meeting spots. One of those rooms is the Commons, where children don’t congregate for long periods of time. The other is room 102 (Peggy), who now has a shorter route to walk, and (depending on the emergency) has quick access to 3 different exits. We are confident in our revised plan. Our contractor graded the construction space so that kids walking an evacuation route will be like walking on a level dirt road. Teachers have been acquainted with the new plan, and administrators will be pitching in during high-need times — whether a crisis or a recess that needs an extra pair of hands — until the OLS is completed. All hands are on deck!

When we take the long view of this project, the few short weeks we wait for it to be completed will be overwhelmed by the fantastic spectacle of our kids playing their hearts out with new challenges in their home-away-from-home. More than one parent has said to me, “Ancona parents are reasonable, and know that construction always has delays with it.” I think these steady hands were trying to calm me when my anticipation of the final product was getting a little too ecstatic. I will be romping around with the rest of them, and I hope you will, too. (The structure is rated for 100,000 pounds, so let’s put it to the test!)