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A new park for Hyde Park, designed by Chittick Elementary students

Melissa Ix, design principal for Studio HIP, led the last of eight biweekly sessions with the school’s fifth-graders to design a community space.
Melissa Ix, design principal for Studio HIP, led the last of eight biweekly sessions with the school’s fifth-graders to design a community space.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Connor Stallings, a fifth-grader at James J. Chittick Elementary School in Hyde Park, proudly gestured to an architectural drawing of a playground, noting the turf field would be ideally situated near a green-roofed gazebo and hammock swing for when students grew tired.

And if youngsters wanted to avoid the sun, Stallings added, they could walk a tad farther and sit beneath a group of trees.

To Stallings, 11, the park’s entire design — from artwork embedded in the pavement to bleachers overlooking a kickball field — made complete sense. After all, Stallings and 25 other fifth-graders have spent weeks planning a community space for all ages.

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“This is our last playground planning. This is the most fun: We’re wrapping it up for the little kids,” Stallings said Thursday, before launching into more practical matters. “You have to worry about the budget — you have to take some things out for the budget to be affordable.”

When finished in three to five years, likely as Stallings and peers enter high school, the project will represent a visible milestone for Boston: closing the largest park access gap in the city.

Though an existing playground at Chittick is technically available to the community during after-school hours, public entry is obscured by fences. The new half-acre park will encompass that playground and its surrounding open space.

Almost 100 percent of Bostonians — and San Franciscans — live within a 10-minute walk of a park, according to The Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit involved in the project. By contrast, the national average is just 54 percent.

“Parks provide some really important benefits to communities,” said Kelly Boling, the Trust’s state director for Massachusetts and Rhode Island, in a phone interview Wednesday. “They promote health, they promote psychological wellness. They provide places for people to meet one another and form social connections. Having a great park close to home is really great.”

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The project is a partnership between the Trust for Public Land, Boston Public Schools, the Boston Parks and Recreation Department, and New York City-based Studio HIP Landscape Architecture.

Melissa Ix, design principal for Studio HIP, led the last of eight biweekly sessions with the school’s fifth-graders on Thursday, distributing glossy handouts of revamped play equipment and greenery.

Mia Rosales, 11, (right), and Tayna Therilus, 11, studied the draft conceptual design.
Mia Rosales, 11, (right), and Tayna Therilus, 11, studied the draft conceptual design. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Students leafed through their design handbooks, which they had begun with wish lists before drilling down into spatial calculations to realistically model the area. The “participatory-design” initiative allows students to think critically in a real-world setting, organizers said.

The plan will now be submitted for approval to city officials, who will then bid it out to contractors.

The end result wasn’t exactly what Stallings had hoped for — multiple features were reconfigured to accommodate small children and senior citizens — but the fifth-grader said he was happy with the compromise version.

“This process is a vital step in designing a community playground,” Ix said. “These students find their voice, and we listen to them. They understand they are decision makers.”

For more than an hour, Ix gently peppered the students with questions. As she pointed out an accessible ramp on one enlarged design taped to the whiteboard, she paused: “What does that mean? It means someone with a wheelchair can get into the park.”

She stopped again while signaling to the turf field, a highlight of the park layout (and a favorite destination among the students), in addition to the swings and basketball court. “This field is going to be like a sponge,” Ix said, briefly reviewing green infrastructure and storm drainage. “You’re creating an environment that’s going to improve the watershed in the area.”

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Mia Rosales, 11, eagerly raised her hand throughout the morning, her quiet voice competing against energized classmates. Her favorite part of the design exercise, Rosales said, was fashioning a park to suit her own style.

“I like it,” Rosales said, especially the gazebo. “It’s pretty fun knowing I can play here eventually when it’s done.”

Her classmate, Dezvray Beasley, 11, marveled at how “cool” it was to draft a public space from scratch, joyfully calling the project a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience.

“You have to think about other people’s opinions and not just your own, because it’s not just your playground,” Beasley said. “It’s for other people — it’s our community’s playground.”

Courtney Tipping, a fifth-grade teacher at Chittick, said it was refreshing to see how engaged her students were while planning the park. She emphasized the importance of including children in projects that will ultimately benefit them.

“It’s really nice when you have an idea, you kind of sketch out the idea, and it actually happens,” Tipping said. “You feel proud, and you realize you put in the time and effort that was needed to make it a successful thing. It’s really important to learn that skill as a youth.”


Alison Kuznitz can be reached at alison.kuznitz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AlisonKuznitz.

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