CHATHAM – Even as the Castle in the Clouds playground at Harwich Elementary School was being demolished, work was ramping up on a new playground at Chatham Elementary School.
The new community playground is the culmination of a years-long process to improve the play areas on the east side of the Depot Road school and included upgrading drainage and installing irrigation. Work began a few weeks ago on the main section abutting the former water department building on Old Harbor Road, where new a new playscape is being installed that will be safer and more accessible than the previous equipment.
The work is taking longer than anticipated, said Principal Robin Millen, because of the fall's wet weather and the need to remove more material than anticipated in order to create the proper base for the new play area. Because of poor drainage, the mulch used as a surface was often soggy. Some 14 tons of excavated earth was taken out by the town's public works department to facilitate drainage and to create a stronger foundation for the new equipment. It was replaced by about 10 tons of material including gravel and fill. The final surface will be poured rubber, which is better for accessibility, Millen said.
Even though the rubber surface added about $100,000 to the estimated $325,000 cost, the committee that oversaw the project was adamant that the safer, more accessible material be used, Millen said.,
“There were a couple of things they wouldn't budge on, and that was one,” she said.
The roots of the project date back to 2014, and planning began in earnest about two years later when Millen came on as principal. Initially involving members of the school's parent-teacher organization, Millen expanded the group to about 25 people including representatives of the town—the school and playground are on town-owned property which the Monomoy Regional School District leases—community groups and residents. Although located at the school, the playground is used year-round by visitors, residents and groups, including the Chatham Bars Inn summer program, she noted.
The PTO launched fundraisers and kids helped design the new playscape. Over the years, students had made requests and even marked the sort of equipment they'd like in books. All of that input was used by O'Brien and Sons in designing the final playground.
In 2017 the town regraded the field near the playground and installed irrigation. Earlier this year the final piece of the funding puzzle came together when voters approved $295,000 in community preservation funds for the facility at the May annual town meeting.
“It's truly been a community build,” Millen said.
There are two main play areas on the east side of the school. Much of the equipment in the smaller area closest to the building, geared toward youngsters up to age 5, will be retained, including the popular fire engine. Some new play structures will be added and the previous wood chip surface will be replaced by poured rubber which will be sand colored.
The larger playscape will also retain some existing structures, but most of it will be new. It will remain largely within the footprint of the existing area, but will have more equipment. The larger playscape is geared toward ages 5 to 12.
For both areas, accessibility was a major goal. The smaller playground will be accessible, and the larger one will have three points of accessibility on two levels.
The third phase of the project, a large shade structure for the smaller play area which was removed from the CPA application to reduce the cost, awaits a grant from the American Academy of Dermatology. The shade is important because the play area is used year-round by the students in the school's pre-K program, Millen said.
Millen said she hopes students will be able to use the new play structures by the second week in November, although weather could push that time frame back. Students are excited to finally get out onto the new playground.
“The kiddos have been so patient,” she remarked.