Farrell’s schoolyard to get major redesign

Thanks to an $800,000 grant, a new schoolyard focusing on literacy and diversity is in the works for Farrell School in Bell’s Corner.

Sara Shuh, of SALT Design Studio, speaks to parents at Louis H. Farrell School during a community meeting last month about the schoolyard project. JACK TOMCZUK / TIMES PHOTO

Nicholas Cirulli, principal of Louis H. Farrell School in Bell’s Corner, had initially called it a playground project, but now he doesn’t. It’s much more.

Architects hired by the School District of Philadelphia are working on a plan to completely revamp Farrell’s schoolyard, from a huge, paved-over lot to a green learning space with a focus on literacy and diversity.

The project is being funded by a roughly $800,000 grant from the William Penn Foundation. Farrell, Joseph Pennell School in Northwest Philadelphia and a third not-yet-named school were selected for the program.

Officials picked Farrell, 8300 Castor Ave., a K-8 school with about 1,200 students, because of its expansive schoolyard and how quickly teachers have adapted to modernized classrooms introduced at the school.

Designers met with parents last month to reveal preliminary plans and renderings, which include a community garden, nature trail, volleyball court, an outdoor classroom/performance area and tons of green space.

There would also be designated play areas for older students, younger kids, kickball and Ga-Ga, a game similar to dodgeball that is popular at Farrell. Basketball courts, for years a hotspot for neighborhood kids, will remain.

A literacy loop, with different words written on it, would circle part of the building. 

The design also calls for a grand entrance on Alma Street surrounded by plant beds. It would include a word, such as “welcome,” written in multiple languages on the pavement and a world map with markings indicating every country represented at the school.

“As the designers, we want this schoolyard to be unique to this community,” said Sara Shuh, of SALT Design Studio, architects on the project. “We don’t want the schoolyard to look like it could be anywhere else. We want it to be specific to this place.”

Landscape architect Sara Shuh, of SALT Design Studio, speaks to Farrell families about a project to revamp the schoolyard. JACK TOMCZUK / TIMES PHOTO

Farrell has large immigrant populations from Brazil, China, Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and 32 languages are spoken by students. At the meeting with parents, counselors translated the presentation into multiple languages. 

Marli Ferreire, a parent with two children at Farrell, said she is from Brazil and her kids speak English and Portuguese. She liked that the preliminary plans incorporated a range of languages.

“It’s nice,” Ferreire said of the project. “It’s great because all the kids when school ends stay in the place and play.” 

Farrell students have had a big impact on the plans. For months, Mural Arts has been at the school engaging children and parents. 

A storyteller came to speak to families and wrote a poem about the school. Then, those involved with the project created a board game based on Farrell, the neighborhood and student drawings.

Cirulli said students focused on adding more nature to the schoolyard. Designers incorporated trees and other plants along the Alma Street side because many kids said it’s always sunny and hot in that area, he explained. 

“What you see up there,” Cirulli said, pointing to the plans, “is basically the ideas of our children.”

Suhad Manna, another Farrell parent, said she was amazed at how Mural Arts and the design team used input from the students.

“My kids are so excited,” she said. “They want it to open this summer.”

The new schoolyard, dubbed “The Hive,” is scheduled to open in September 2021. SALT will continue finalizing the design and getting permits through this September, and the work is scheduled to be put out to bid between September and December. Construction should start in spring 2021.

It’s the second major project at Farrell in recent years. In 2018, the school opened a $7.1 million addition to accommodate its growing enrollment and replace aging trailers. ••

Jack Tomczuk can be reached at jtomczuk@newspapermediagroup.com.