The playground at the Forestdale School is starting to show its age, with crumbling mats and structures in regular need of repairs—but a new playground could be in place by next year if funding is approved.
The existing structure is approaching 20 years old, said Principal Christopher Dintino. The flooring is made of rubber mats that have holes and divots that pose a hazard to young students. Students were barred from using the swings for a time last year because an inspector found exposed concrete and chains in need of replacing, Mr. Dintino said. He said that a bridge structure on the main playground was badly damaged last year, too, and has since been repaired.
“We’re really trying to band-aid everything,” Mr. Dintino said.
Over the course of the entire school year last year, a total of 673 injuries occurred on the playground, he said. The majority of those injuries were caused by children playing roughly, but more than 100 were caused by the equipment. Of the equipment injuries, most were caused by the swings.
In addition to the repair needs of the playground, the structure is not appropriate for the school’s preschool population. Those youngest students are prohibited from using the swings and from climbing on a rock structure since they are deemed too dangerous for those children, Mr. Dintino said.
Mr. Dintino said that when the building housed a kindergarten through 8th grade population, the playground was suitable. It no longer meets the needs of the young students who use it.
He said that the idea for an age-appropriate preschool playground dates back to when former principal Marc J. Smith was still in the building. When Mr. Dintino took on the job himself, seeing that vision through became his number-one priority.
In talking about the project with former facilities director James P. McGrail, the decision was made to construct both a preschool playground as well as a new playground for the kindergarten through 2nd grade students. The proposal would raze the existing structure and replace it with a preschool playground. The second playground would be positioned on the opposite side of the building, adjacent to the school’s athletic fields.
The projected cost of building both structures is about $580,000. Mr. Dintino said that half of that cost is in the surface materials. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts only allows for playgrounds to use two kinds of surfaces in new structures—a soft poured rubber or artificial turf.
Mr. Dintino said the playground for the older students would be made of turf and the younger students would have the soft rubber.
He said that he will be meeting with the Community Preservation Committee in October with the hope of the projects being put on the warrant for the spring Town Meeting.
He said that the new structures will benefit the more than 600 students who use them on a daily basis, but that the larger community will have access as well outside of school hours.
The playground for the older children is slated to be made out of robinia (black locust) wood, which does not splinter or rot, Mr. Dintino said. He said that the playspace will be inclusive to students of all abilities, so that students who have a handicap can still play with their friends.
He noted a rope-climbing structure that can hold 50 students, but also has a wide space underneath where students who are unable to climb can still be near their peers.
“Kids who are differently abled will still be able to meet and be a part of groups,” Mr. Dintino said.
There will also be several musical instrument structures, allowing students to create while they play.
The space will accommodate many more children at one time, which Mr. Dintino said could allow for an increase in the length of time spent at recess, since they may not have to stagger that period in the day as much as they do now. He said that between a new playground and an upcoming outdoor classroom, there is also the potential to offer students two recess periods next year.
“There is definitely the possibility for more flexibility,” he said.
If the projects are approved, construction would begin next summer, starting with the preschool playground.