CHATHAM – Until this past October, a large section of the Chatham Elementary School playground, an area known as the field, was alternatively a dusty or muddy mess, often unusable. But after a cooperative project last summer between the town and the school department that involved fixing drainage, bringing in irrigation, topsoil and seed, the area now has grass, for the first time in years.
“It seems like a small thing,” said Principal Robin Millen. “But it was very impactful for the children's play, for what we could do out there. Just the fact that we had grass was wonderful.”
Restoring the field was the first part of a multi-phase project to upgrade the school's playground. Because its use goes beyond just the school, it's now being referred to as the Chatham Community Playground at Chatham Elementary School.
“It's a great resource,” said Theresa Malone, director of Monomoy Community Services, located across Depot Road from the school. Kids in MCS programs use the school playground all the time, she said. “It's one of the few places in town that the year-round community uses 20 times as much as visitors, so we kind of own it.” The playground is also used during the summer by Chatham Bars Inn and Mass Audubon, and it's open to the public year-round.
“We know it's a community facility,” said Millen. “We want it to be more so.”
A committee of about 20 residents, town and school officials has been meeting since 2014 to plan the project, which will include new, upgraded and improved accessibility of the play equipment and spaces that can be used for outdoor learning. A number of fundraisers are being planned to raise the approximately $250,000 it will take to accomplish the group's initial vision. They include a spaghetti dinner at the Chatham Wayside Inn March 1, a playhouse raffle, and the return of the popular Chathamopoly game.
Although the school is operated by the Monomoy Regional School District, the property is owned by the town and leased to the district. Millen pointed out the location – in the middle of a municipal campus that includes the community center and Veterans Field, the Railroad Museum and the fire station – is the perfect location for both the school and playground, which has more facilities for younger kids than the community playground adjacent to Veterans Field.
“It's pretty well trafficked,” said Jenn Jennings, a teacher at the school who is heading up the Chathamopoly game. “That's why I think it's been so easy” to get community buy-in for the playground project.
A playground consultant analyzed the existing facility and looked at the entire campus for ways to add or upgrade existing equipment and play areas. Three areas of focus that resulted were the need for greater accessibility, enhancement of creative play areas, and the need for areas that could serve as outdoor classrooms.
“Each of those came with a cost,” Millen said. To do everything could cost as much as $1 million, which is what Orleans spent on a new playground recently. Millen said the committee recognized the need to be pragmatic and determined the best way to go was to work in stages, starting with the field. Many of the current play structures are completely functional, but can be expanded and enhanced.
A variety of funding sources are being examined. Once the consultant completes drawings of the proposed revamped playscape, the group can apply for grants. Community Preservation Act funds are also being considered, and the school district is likely to contribute at some point.
The Chatham Parent Teacher Association is raising money for the project with the spaghetti dinner and raffle, which is a return of a fundraiser that was held regularly a number of years ago. The raffle will include about 15 gift baskets put together by school room mothers based on different themes – space, reading, camping, sports, arts and crafts, movie night, winter fun, and more. Wayside Inn manager Shane Coughlin is donating the restaurant for the event, which begins at 5 p.m. on March 1. Because the capacity of the inn is limited, there are only about 120 tickets available, Millen said; they can be pre-purchased at the school for $4 for students and $8 for adults; tickets at the door will cost $5 for students and $10 for adults; kids under 3 are free.
“The entire community is welcome,” Millen said.
The PTO's other fundraiser is the return of the Chathamopoly game, which the group originally created in the 1990s. Modeled on the traditional Monopoly game, it includes properties sponsored by local businesses. Jennings has been heading up the project, working with local businesses and organizations to fill up the board. This new version of Chathamopoly is expected to go on sale June 1 at $30. To become a Chathamopoly sponsor, contact Jennings at 508-246-4416 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The third major fundraiser has been going on since the fall, when Cape Associates donated a playhouse modeled on the Chatham Fish Pier Market. A raffle for the structure is being headed by Monomoy Community Services, which will also benefit from ticket sales, as will Women of Fishing Families. There is a limited number of tickets at $20 each, and they're available at MCS, the school and RPM Carpets on Route 137 in East Harwich, where the playhouse is on display. A date has not yet been chosen for the drawing, Malone said.
In addition, Chatham Perks held a Halloween Walk last October and donated the proceeds to the playground, and money raised by the fire department in its Halloween pumpkin drop also benefited the project. Other ideas are stewing, such as an adult prom.
“We'd love help and welcome ideas,” Millen said. “We really want to make this a grassroots effort.”
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Chatham Elementary School PTO Spaghetti Dinner and Basket Raffle
Thursday, March 1
Chatham Wayside Inn
To benefit the Chatham Community Playground at Chatham Elementary School
Tickets: pre-purchase, students $4, adults $8; at the door, $5 for students, $10 for adults. Kids under 3 free.
Available at Chatham Elementary School or at the door.