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American Society of Landscape Architects


July 2004 Issue

Extreme Makeover
Sixty-one Beantown school playgrounds get new lives.

By Jerry Howard

Extreme Makeover
Photography by Jerry Howard

The Nathan Hale School was built in 1907 atop a puddingstone knoll in the fashionable Fort Hill district of Roxbury, Massachusetts, between a handsome Victorian mansion and a grassy schoolyard. Nine decades later, the mansion had become a haunt for vagrants and the grass a barren expanse of crumbling asphalt furnished with a solitary basketball hoop. "The Hale" was now an outdated, undersized elementary school with 187 pupils on an abject half-acre that doubled as playground and staff parking lot, where children played kickball while dodging between cars. The barren lot also served as auditorium, theater, and gymnasium when the situation required.

On a recent Monday, the Hale's grounds are clean, and the city's only schoolyard arboretum of 13 trees is leafing vigorously into its fourth spring. Each class has adopted a tree, and the trees form a border around a new outdoor classroom, a stage, and play areas. Each tree's distinctive leaf shape appears as a metal cutout in an ornamental fence that also functions as a learning tool and a colorful entryway. Recently honored as one of Boston's most improved schools, the Hale has become an integral part of the booming Fort Hill neighborhood.

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