South L.A.’s Martin Luther King Jr. park scores new sports field

MLK Jr. Elementary 5th grade class with community leaders.

Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary 5th grade class with community leaders. | Stephanie Monte

A class of fifth graders from Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in South L.A. excitedly rushed to score goals at the school’s new sports field on Thursday, just next door at the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center.

Councilmember Bernard Parks and representatives from the Department of Recreation and Public Works were on hand to announce the completion of a project that they say will provide a safe place for kids to play and exercise.

To hear comments from Parks and others, click play on an audio story from Annenberg Radio News:

The bright green synthetic grass field measures 80 by 130 feet and is surrounded by fencing and two sets of bleachers. The construction cost about $650,000 from a special project fund.Minerva Hernandez, 20, lives with her family near the park. She says the field used to be all dirt and made the neighborhood look messy and dusty.

“We talked about how to improve the park, how we can make it better, and they actually listened,” she said. “They took their time to renew the whole park, and make the park a better place.”

Michael Shull from the Department of Recreation and Parks said the plastic synthetic grass is an improvement over the natural turf.

“It’s hard to keep the grass actually growing because of the use,” said Shull. “On our turf soccer fields we have to close them down for a few months to regenerate and grow back. A synthetic field we don’t — it can be used 365 days of the year.”

Last year, 18 new parks were built in the South L.A. area. There is an initiative to build 50 new parks next year through Proposition K, a 25 million dollar ballot measure that was passed in 1996 for the purpose of funding parks.

Eighth district council member Bernard Parks said the cost of the project grew significantly but thinks it was worthwhile.

“Some of these schools, like MLK Jr. school here, they have no green space on their campus — it’s all asphalt,” said Parks. “Kids don’t have a place to actually have a physical training exercise, so we invited them to use this park as part of their school curriculum,” said Parks.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center is the 20th park in Los Angeles to have a synthetic grass field.

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