As the Maine representative for Miracle Recreation Equipment, Eric Welzel designs playgrounds and travels all over the state. Recently, he put together a playground for Wiscasset Elementary School.
A couple of weeks back, he stopped by the Boothbay Region Elementary School PTO meeting. The group’s project, to update and add more equipment to the somewhat sparse collection already there, has been in development since spring 2016. Mary Baudo, president of the PTO, is the project’s determined champion. “I asked Eric to come by to talk about what it actually takes to put the playground together,” she told the group.
As Welzel spoke, it became apparent that it takes a lot. Each piece eats up valuable space. Just one piece is expensive, as are the installation and the ground cover needed to meet safety standards. Plus, insurance costs could rise.
The PTO knows this. It also believes that this equipment is sorely needed. The group wants to install equipment for kids of all ages. The PTO will work with local landscapers and contractors to help lower costs. The group has already measured how and where oases of equipment can fit among the ledge and trees and sport field perimeters edging out the prime playground real estate in back of BRES.
As drawings were passed, Baudo talked about obtaining funding. “Having fitness and play aspects to each piece is a really good combination. If it’s fitness-oriented, it might be easier for us to apply for grants,” she said. She reminded attendees to continue to click on a website, togethercounts.com. The site features a Healthy Playground Makeover Sweepstakes. “It’s a $30,000 grant and they award three of them. Not that we’re banking on it, but it would be nice. You can vote every day, through March. Private funding is also welcome,” she said. BRES has a dream list of playground equipment that would cost $27,000, just for the equipment.
With the drawings in front of the PTO, Welzel explained the challenges. “There are only so many areas we can put stuff because of the ledge. That's why we were trying to find these little individual pockets,” he said. “We also talked about a hillside slide. A Chameleon-type slide, which are fitted to the contours of the hill,” he added. The slides are built low to the ground, with gentle curves.
Alternative Organizational Structure (AOS) 98 Occupational Therapist Kristin Cameron said, “Edgecomb Eddy has one. It’s phenomenal. It’s accessible to so many kids. It’s one step up, then you’re on a platform, and there’s an adult at the bottom. And then there’s a hill you have to hike up.”
BRES Assistant Principal Tricia Campbell asked Welzel about the rubber surface surrounding equipment shown on the drawing.
“Rubber costs $11.50 to $12.00 a square foot, without the cost of preparation. The wood chips you buy can’t be from the local wood chipper. All of the equipment needs a foot of wood chips when you put it down,” said Welzel.
Regarding how to proceed, Campbell said, “People tend to be more responsive when you set short-term goals. When you reach one goal, it inspires the next step. Everyone identifies with the large goal you're working toward. Each piece, each goal met, is a positive reinforcement.”
Although the PTO has funds, none of it can be set aside for this project. “Most of our fundraising goes into yearly costs that rotate every year. We haven’t done any major fundraising for this yet, because we wanted to have a design and we wanted everyone on board. I think everyone recognizes by now that this is something we do need,” said Baudo.
“That’s the key. This isn’t a school issue, it’s a community need,” added Campbell.