On-Campus Playground Restrictions Ruin the Fun

OE Partner Yissel Lingenbrink gives her take on the recent changes to HBS’s on-campus playgrounds and the issues raised by restrictions on facility access.

The Harvard Business School community recently received new playground equipment after a six-month wait caused by Tata Hall construction; many residents are left in awe of the new additions. But many HBS families are left wondering why the playgrounds were not created equal.

Of the five playgrounds located on HBS, four of them belong to the Soldier Field Childcare Center (SFPCC) and one of them is called the community playground, which is open to families living on campus. Two of SFCC’s playgrounds and the community playground were redesigned

The construction of Tata Hall, home to Harvard Business School’s Executive Education program, began last year. A temporary location was necessary, but a complete makeover was a bonus.  “The Tata Hall construction affected a good portion of the playground,” said Kevin Ruby, a project manager at Harvard. “We kind of forced the move and redesigning of the playground.”

For the inconvenience, a new playground for Soldiers Field Park Children’s Center and the community was promised by HBS. “The childcare playground is stunning,” said on-campus resident Laura Welch. “Although I appreciate the effort to improve the community playground, sadly it is too small to accommodate the growing number of kids. I struggle every time I bring my three year old because he asks to play in the childcare playground because it is so much better.”

The community playground has a new rubber, synthetic-grass flooring, a sandbox, a climbing structure and swings. The size of the community playground is about half the size of one of the childcare’s playground. The childcare playground received new rubber flooring, a water-play area, a tunnel for carts and bikes, a sandbox pit, and has two large shaded climbing structures and has an open field for splash pools said Melissa Chieppo, childcare director.

SFPCC has sole access to four playgrounds during weekdays. There are about 80 children enrolled in SFPCC and about 10 of the children have parent’s attending HBS. The Crimson Kids Committee, a volunteer-run club for HBS families anticipated between 80 to 100 children living on campus this year and also expected about 10 to 15 will be admitted to the SFPCC. The remaining number of children which is about 85 kids are cared for by stay-at-home moms and dads.

“If you visit MIT or Stanford they have amazing parks for the families,” said Welch. “But if you walk around Harvard Business School you will see beautiful parks but they are not for the student families. They are for the incredibly expensive daycare that the majority of students can’t afford.”

Childcare at SFPCC cost on average $1,500 a month and residents argue they pay at least $2,500 a month to live on campus.

Access to the childcare’s playground is restricted to after 6 p.m. and weekends.  Allowing residents to use all playgrounds during the week day is unlikely. Stringent adult-to-child ratio restricts the childcare from openings its gates to HBS families during business hours. These restrictions are in place to keep the children safe and uphold the standard SFPCC maintains.

The reality that using the playgrounds with the childcare has hit home and many families feel their attempts to create a family-friendly HBS is going unheard. The Crimson Kids Club has plumped up its event and activity schedule to compensate for the lack of facilities for children. But at 3:30 p.m. in the afternoon when the community playground is overflowing with HBS families and the childcare playground has less than six kids on one of its four playgrounds it makes it very difficult to not feel left out or overlooked.

Allowing one or two hours of access in the day, to SFPCC’s playgrounds, when not in use would alleviate the congestion on the playground. Especially in light of the extended disruptions caused by the Tata Hall construction, space for kids’ play has been decreasing on campus.

“In past years the kids played soccer on the open field were Tata Hall is being constructed,” Welch said. “Now that is not possible. This park does not allow us to have a fun space for all our children to go to.”

All kids, whether or not they are enrolled in on-campus childcare, should be able to use the playgrounds near their home when the childcare center is not using them. Access to the playgrounds will improve the quality of life of children, partners, and students alike.

September 11, 2012
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