New Well, Irrigation Will Improve Chatham Elementary School Playground

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Chatham Elementary School

The dusty field at the Chatham Elementary School playground will soon get a makeover, with new irrigation to ensure that grass will grow and survive. TIM WOOD PHOTO

CHATHAM – Efforts are underway to improve the playground behind the elementary school on Depot Road, beginning with the installation of a well and irrigation system early next month.

The longer term project will eventually involve upgrading the existing playground equipment, but for now officials are concentrating on making the playing field on the east side of the school more usable. Currently the area is covered in hard-packed soil upon which nothing will grow, said Principal Robin Millen.

“We sometimes use it for gym, but if it were more grassed, we'd use it more often,” she said.

Nearby, a blocked drainage swale also contributes to what Millen calls a “river” that runs through the playground area at times. Repairing that is another key piece in upgrading the playground.

A 16-member playground committee, consisting of school administrators, staff, parents, community members, Friends of Trees and town officials, determined that an irrigation system was necessary to maintain turf on the field. Rather than use town water, an on-site well will be drilled, with the work scheduled to be done over the Columbus Day weekend. Millen said the process can be loud and would be too distracting to do during school hours. An irrigation system will then be put in place, and the field graded and grass seed planted. If the mild weather continues, and with the help of the irrigation, Millen is hoping the grass will get a good start so the area can be used next spring.

In the meantime, outdoor gym classes will use the community center fields across Depot Road. At times when playground equipment is not accessible, recess will be held there and in the community playground adjacent to Veterans Field. Playground equipment used by younger children, located closer to the school building, will likely be accessible during most of the process, Millen said.

The school property belongs to the town and is leased to the Monomoy Regional School District. The park and recreation department, through Director Dan Tobin, and Principal Projects and Operations Administrator Terry Whalen have been working with the group, Millen said. The park and recreation department maintains the school grounds, Tobin said, and spreads new mulch at the play area used by older students at the eastern side of the playground. The school also replaced basketball hoops and repainted the basketball court to try to spruce up the area, Millen said.

She pointed out that the playground is not just used by the school. It is used by the public, by Monomoy Community Services, and in the summer by Chatham Bars Inn's child care program.

“It's a nice, safe, fenced area,” she noted.

The longer-term project is to replace the existing playground equipment with play structures that are more up to date and accessible, Millen said. That's a complicated and expensive process. “It's not as easy as just replacing a slide or two,” she said. The project is part of the elementary school's school improvement plan, and students have been looking at catalogs of equipment to pick out possible new play structures. The project may require some major fundraising; she noted that Orleans recently spent a considerable amount of money on a new playground.

In the meantime, the cost of the well and irrigation project will be covered by capital funds in the school's budget, Millen said. The well is estimated to cost $6,200, the irrigation system $3,800 and electrical work for both $4,000. Donated services may be sought to cover additional costs, such as a trench for the electrical wiring.

Members of the committee are teachers Jenn Jennings and Amanda Julin; parent Jen Connors; parents and business owners Chris Smith and Jack Sheeran; Monomoy Community Services Director Theresa Malone; lead custodian Bob Looney; Friends of Trees representatives Tom Quill and Oonie Burley; Monomoy Schools Director Facilities Rick Travers; Millen, Tobin and Whalen. Helping to provide resources are Superintendent Scott Carpenter, school business manager Katie Isernio and Nancy White of Playground Inspections of New England.