‘Castle’ Toppled, Volunteers Crusade For New Playground

By: Alan Pollock

An excavator made quick work of the old playground. ALAN POLLOCK PHOTOS

HARWICH — The Castle in the Clouds is no more, but organizers have put forth a plan to replace it with a new playground that is fun, safe and accessible to all students.

The demolition of the Castle in the Clouds started Friday morning and proceeded quickly. 

The demolition of the Castle in the Clouds started Friday morning and proceeded quickly. 

The new playground is estimated cost just over $680,000, and supporters from the Harwich Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization have already raised around $40,000 toward the project. Organizers are seeking $641,035 in Community Preservation Act funds and were expected to present the project to the community preservation committee this week.

The proposed 12,500-square-foot playground would replace both the old Castle in the Clouds and the adjacent preschool playground; it includes 2,000 square feet of asphalt play surface.

“The concept behind this design is to create a universally accessible play space that meets all the safety and accessibility standards of a modern elementary school with a population of about 550 students,” the CPC application reads. “The playground itself will include a diverse mix of equipment from conventional swings and tire swings to spinners, nets, climbers and mixed monkey bars. The preschool playground will include swings, an inclusive merry-go-round, playhouse, and shaded sand/water sensory space.” The preschool area would be fenced in, as required by code.

“To encourage creative play, there will be a performance space with a stage, complete with musical instruments. Hard surface games such as tetherball, hopscotch, and a gaga pit wrap the outside edge of the space,” the application reads. Beyond that, the area will be seeded with grass for soccer, football and other yard games.

“The design maximizes play value with a diverse mix of equipment and spaces, giving many options to all students,” the applicants wrote.

The playground will be surrounded by an accessible sidewalk, with an enhanced parking area with additional handicap spaces. The structure itself will have a poured-in-place rubber surface that is wheelchair-friendly and also reduces injuries from falls.

“A small outdoor classroom has been designed with a shade structure and furnishings to give teachers an opportunity to conduct classes and hold experiential learning exercises outside,” the application reads. The playground is designed to give teachers a clear view of the whole site, limiting hiding spaces and obstructions.

The playground is on town-owned property, with part under the control of the Monomoy Regional School District and part under the town’s recreation and youth department. Proponents say the new playground, like its predecessor, will be used by Harwich Elementary students during school hours and by the general public at other times.

While the playground plan and the CPC application were prepared by the Harwich PTO, officials determined that the PTO could not be the official applicant because it does not own the property. On Monday, the Monomoy Regional School Committee voted to have the school district join the town of Harwich as co-applicants.

CPC Chairman David Nixon told selectmen Monday that the actual project manager, now listed as PTO volunteer Justin Tavano, should instead be a town employee who is a qualified project manager. Town Administrator Christopher Clark said he planned to fill that role, but would have Tavano make the grant presentation at this week’s meeting.

When it comes to whose names are on the forms, “I don’t want things to get hung up on semantics,” Monomoy schools Superintendent Scott Carpenter said. “I think we’ve got a very qualified person to go and make the presentation to the CPC,” he said of Tavano.

“The last thing we want to do is step in the way of the work that’s been done,” Selectman Stephen Ford said.

Selectmen Chairman Larry Ballantine told the playground committee organizers not to worry about opposition from his board.

“Your concern’s not us,” he said. “Your concern’s the CPC and then town meeting.”

The school committee voted to close the 25-year-old Castle in the Clouds over safety concerns, and selectmen voted last week to have it torn down. On Friday, even as crews were erecting a fence around the site, an excavator began demolishing the playground, reducing it to a pile of timbers within a few hours. Crews carefully saved two stone monuments that were part of the playground and preserved the red brick pavers that made up its walkway.

On Monday, DPW crews were spreading loam over the cleared site, which officials hope will host a new playground soon.

On Monday, DPW crews were spreading loam over the cleared site, which officials hope will host a new playground soon.

Workers also saved the “friendship bench,” a circular bench around a tree reserved for shy youngsters looking for new friends to play with.

DPW crews leveled the site Monday and covered it with loam for eventual seeding with grass, which will keep the site stable until a new playground is built.

On Monday, DPW crews were spreading loam over the cleared site, which officials hope will host a new playground soon.

On Monday, DPW crews were spreading loam over the cleared site, which officials hope will host a new playground soon.