When the pupils return to the local primary school in September, they will be welcomed with new equipment on the playground.
The second phase of the Melrose School Playground was installed in June, complete with slides and swings, to replace the structure that has stood on the grounds since the building opened in 1991. The first two phases of the playground are for children in the upper Melrose classes, while the replacement of the separate playground for younger pupils will take place in the third phase. Christina Smith, a parent who sits on the playground committee, said the second phase added climbing elements to the main structure installed in April 2020.
“We added parts to large structures,” she said. “They will have the monkey bars, the climbing bars and the connecting bridges.”
Plans to rebuild the playground began in 2018 as the age and condition of the equipment made it difficult to maintain custodial staff.
“A lot of things were at the point where they needed to be removed, not replaced,” Smith said. “It became clear that we needed to upgrade to newer and safer equipment.”
A committee of parents and teachers was created, and after spending 2019 devising plans and raising funds, the first phase came to life just as the coronavirus hit in March 2020. While the first phase has installed as planned, the coronavirus pandemic forced a delay of the second phase.
Since settling in, Melrose principal Beth Roman said it has become “a center of communication,” where children can socialize outside of the classroom. Students in the first three years have two recesses per day, while students in the third and fourth years have one.
“We use it in so many different ways,” Roman said. “At Jamestown, one of the main focuses is outdoor education and how we can really provide that for our children. This playground is really the hub of it.
Smith said the decision to work in phases was due to cost, and so far the project has been entirely funded by fundraising.
“It was decided early on that it wouldn’t be in the school’s budget,” she said. “Maintenance is done within the school budget, and the old playground has been maintained by the budget, but the new equipment will all be externally funded.”
Raise the stakes
Funds were raised through golf tournaments, raffles, lemonade stands and clothing drives. The students also donated their carnival proceeds to a penny toward the playground, and a Venmo account was created so donations could be directly deposited. Donors can also purchase bricks for a footbridge that will be installed.
The materials cost $60,000 for the first two phases. The third and final phase will cost $65,000 and the group aims to raise $50,000. Smith said the plan is for the remaining $15,000 to be topped up with grants.
The installation of the playground was carried out by the public works department and district maintenance staff, so there were no labor costs.
“That’s really what made this project possible,” Smith said. “If we didn’t have that capability internally, I think we wouldn’t have installed phase one yet.”
The new playground uses the entire existing footprint of the old equipment. Equipment that has not reached the end of its useful life, such as a climbing frame, funnel ball, basketball hoops and the swing set, will remain, and new equipment has been designed around these structures. Woodchip surfaces and basketball flooring are also familiar remnants.
Since the project was done in phases, parts of the original equipment remained intact during the installation of the new equipment so that the students would not be left without a playground during construction. The playground for early childhood students remained intact until the final phase could begin.
The playground was designed by ME O’Brien and Sons Inc. of Massachusetts and manufactured by Landscape Structures in Minnesota. These are the same two companies that created the equipment for the community playground which opened next to the North Road Library in 2018. The committee was told which equipment lasts the longest, is the easier to maintain and encourages play.
“As much as learning happens in school, it happens on the playground,” Smith said. “There are really all kinds of meeting spaces, climbers and activities. Places where children can play alone and in groups.
The main structure is an outdoor play set with more than one way to access it, including stairs and climbers, allowing teachers to walk through the structure. Smith said the biggest difference between structures for older and younger children is size. The one already installed is 4-6 feet off the ground, while the proposed structure for younger students will be 2-4 feet off the ground. Aside from the height, the two sets of equipment are similar, and younger children can play on the equipment intended for older students. The space under the structure is designed as meeting places to encourage children to use their imagination.
“Preschool is designed to be able to have lemonade stands and bakeries and things like that,” Smith said.
According to Roman, the older students have already started using their imaginations with their new equipment.
“They love it,” Roman said. “They make their own games on it. You can go out anytime and they’ve created something totally different with everyone together.”
The children took part in choosing the equipment for the playground. Former principal Carrie Werner worked with teachers to ask students what they wanted. Children drew pictures and were quizzed over lunch to determine the most popular equipment.
There were members of the Melrose playground committee, including Smith, who also served on the committee involved in the planning of the community playground. This helped members remember to include different equipment than what was already installed at the corner of North Road and Valley Street.
“We were part of the process to make sure we were delivering things that were great for schools and didn’t replicate as much as what was in the city playground,” she said. “The community playground is designed for a much older population.”
Smith said Werner, who is her sister, was kept updated on the construction of the new playground, which began while she was still manager of Melrose.
“She visits us in the summer, so we came to show her the progress,” Smith said. “She’s excited. She wants it to happen. »
The committee is planning further fundraising through 2022 to fund the final phase. Members also seek grants from the local PTO, the Jamestown Education Foundation, the Rhode Island Foundation, and the Van Beuren Charitable Foundation.
“The number is big for a small community, and we’re already so grateful for what’s been given,” Smith said.