Making The Elementary School Playground A Cooler Place

by William F. Galvin

HARWICH – The newly reconstructed playground behind the Harwich Elementary School is becoming a much cooler place.

A project started by the Garden Club of Harwich, working with the Harwich Elementary School’s Parent Teachers Organization, has resulted in the planting of 14 trees and the installation of six new benches at the playground.

The Parent Teacher Organization, the Garden Club of Harwich and contributors to the project held a tree and bench dedication ceremony on June 26 at the newly planted site, which is now dedicated to the memory of John Z. Daluze.

The idea to plant shade trees in the area around the playground came from the Garden Club’s conservation committee, which was working on a project to add 90 new trees to the community as a way to celebrate the club’s 90th anniversary last year.

Diane DiGennaro, who heads the conservation committee, remembered how hot it was in September 2022 when the ribbon-cutting for the new playground was held. She figured there was a need for shade trees in that area, and the Garden Club reached out to the PTO.

“They really jumped on board,” DiGennaro said at the time.

Under the leadership of PTO President Crystal Tanguay and Treasurer Richard Roy, the PTO began fundraising, encouraging members of the community to sponsor trees accompanied by a plaque recognizing their dedications and contributions.

Each tree cost $400, and Roy said the community responded quickly. It was agreed benches should also be added in the area to provide resting places. The initial cost of the benches was estimated to be $1,600, and the plan was to provide five benches. As it turned out the benches only cost $1,000, so a sixth bench was added from the $6,000 raised for benches, according to Roy. In all, $11,600 was raised for trees and benches.

DiGennaro said the Garden Club donated $1,500 to get the project going. The Chatham-Harwich Women’s Club donated another $675 for the project, she said.

Some of the benches and plaques were dedicated to the memory of individuals, some represented businesses and others bear pearls of wisdom, such as “Play is serious learning,” “Learn Flourish Thrive,” and “The future starts here.” Others recognize the contributions of teachers and school classes.

Last November, with the help of horticulturalist Russell Norton of the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension, species of shade trees that would attract pollinators were planted. They included tulip, black gum, eastern and red cedars, silver lindens and Norway spruces.

DiGennaro said there was discussion about what should be planted. Oaks were prohibited because of the acorns, as were trees with berries. It was quite challenging, she said, but Norton helped with the selections. Cape Coastal Landscaping was terrific in providing the trees, she said.

The trees were installed by staff from the Monomoy Regional School District and landscaping soil was donated by the Ahrensfeld Farm just down South Street from the school, said Roy. John Fougere of Chatham donated the plaques and engravings, he added.

The Garden Club provided the necessary early care for the trees and shrubs. The club also produced information pamphlets on the trees to use as teaching tools. All but one of the benches has been installed, said Roy.

“These trees will grow up to be shade trees, otherwise it would be like the Sarengeti out there,” Roy said of the direct sunlight and heat that penetrates the area each day.

“The trees, the hardwoods are happy and healthy there,” DiGennaro said this week. “We asked families of students in the school to sign up to water the plants during the summer months and those families really have stepped up to help those trees settle in.

“We’re hoping the momentum can continue and the school district can work with the town to design dynamic facilities for recreation for families on the open, fallow field on the other side of the playground and behind the cultural center,” she said.