2019-01-10 / Around Town

First Phase Completed for New School Playground

By Christopher Allen

With the addition of a climbing structure, the first phase in a fundraising effort to build a state-of-the-art playground at Forest Avenue Elementary School has been completed. Subsequent phases will see new slides, swings and other playground components.

The project is being spearheaded by a group of volunteer parents and teachers, who hope to replace the school’s current dilapidated playground by spring.

The installation will be overseen by M.E. O'Brien and Sons, Inc. of Medway, Massachusetts. Middletown’s Facilities Department assisted with getting the space ready for the first phase of the installation by removing apparatus that was rusted and deemed unsafe.

The group has not received any funding from the town. To date, all money raised has been a result of an independent campaign, such as the “Who’s Reading?” read-athon last fall that raised more than $5,000. Future fundraising events are planned for the remainder of the academic year, according to group president Danielle McCarthy, whose 8-year-old daughter attends Forest Avenue Elementary.

“Our kids need a safe, fun space to exercise and get fresh air,” she said. “For my child and others, they are much better learners when they’ve had a chance to run, jump, climb and play.”

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, a U.S. federal agency charged with the study and promotion of public health, says that children aged 6 to 17 should be getting an hour or more of physical activity daily.

“Opportunities to run and play engage the child not only in physical health but also give them the chance to develop skills in independent as well as collaborative play, problem-solving and many other skills necessary to grow up in today’s world,” Forest Avenue principal Beth Hayes said in a Jan. 3 press release. “Our children work all day in class, and we believe it is important to allow time to be a child and play, both before school and in the middle of the school day.”

School Committee president Kellie Simeone said that although she recognizes the importance of having up-to-date recreational facilities at each school in the district, narrowing budget margins make this impossible. “It’s just not something we can afford in our budget right now with all of our other needs that rise in priority every year,” she said.

The new playground will feature more inclusive design features, allowing children with disabilities better access.

“They really have put a lot of thought into making it something that all of the kids will really benefit from,” Simeone said. “When kids see new stuff out there, they are going to be more engaged and want to try it out and get involved with it. The teachers always say that when the kids get out there and get a chance to burn off some energy, they are much more focused when they get back in the classroom.”

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