'Blessing' sought for Cape Elizabeth playground improvements

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Staff have taken it upon themselves to jump-start the effort to make improvements at the Pond Cove Elementary School playground.

School nurse Erin Taylor said she’ll go before the Town Council June 11 with hopes of getting its “blessing” before meeting with school administration and the Parent’s Association to brainstorm fundraising mechanisms. 

The School Board excluded the project from the fiscal year 2019 budget in favor of other capital improvements, including a $249,000 engineering and architect study of all three town schools.

But the Town Council reduced the proposed budget from $25.6 million to $25.4 million. Had they anticipated that, board members said, they would’ve included funds for smaller line items, such as the playground improvements.

The hope, Taylor said, is to have a project completed by summer 2019 that places an “emphasis on safety by incorporating play options that appeal to all K-4 students, including those with physical challenges and disabilities.”

The school has a population of nearly 550 students who use the playground each day. 

The vision for the new playground came after a charrette in 2015, led by Laura Newman of Portland Trails and architect Sashie Misner. 

Misner was then hired with grant funding to turn the ideas generated from the charrette into a plan, which is designed in phases based on when funding for the project may be available. 

Early cost estimates put the improvements at $255,000, including equipment, installation and landscaping.

Improvements for only the portion known as “Natureland” are estimated to cost around $80,000. 

Natureland was built about 10 years ago as an outdoor classroom space. With gardens and a covered pavilion, Taylor said Natureland is a great teaching space. 

However, with the wood in the pavilion rotting, loose gravel and uneven terrain, Taylor said the space has become a safety concern. 

“Unfortunately, the upkeep hasn’t been great,” she said. “We want to make it more classroom-friendly.”

Taylor said ideally, the gardens would be moved to the opposite end of the plot, where there’s access to running water. She said the swings are also outdated and “problematic” because of their close proximity to a wooden fence.

“The kids are taught not to go behind the swings,” Taylor noted. 

Additionally, Taylor said the idea is to add a small play structure at the rear of the lot for kindergartners and first- and second-graders. 

Up the hill from Natureland is an approximately 15-year-old plastic play structure and blacktop. Last summer, improvements were made to the space, including removing two slides, to mitigate safety and spatial concerns. 

Each morning, health teacher, Heather Kennedy, brings students outside to pick up trash from the playground. They also do daily safety inspections of the playground to report any broken equipment or sharp corners on elements, which Kennedy reports to administration. 

“The kids have been very involved and excited to help in keeping the playground clean and safe for all students at Pond Cove,” Taylor said. 

Still, Taylor said, there are hazardous aspects of the playset and the school is finding pieces are becoming harder to replace the older it gets. 

“Many replacement parts are no longer manufactured,” she said. 

The overarching desire expressed by students during the charrette was for more open space to run and play games. Taylor said the playset creates a congested space that impedes the staff’s ability to monitor students and often results in injuries from falls and student collisions.

For this reason, the idea is to remove the playset and build a smaller one on and around the slope that descends down to Natureland, equipped with slides and “climbing elements” on the hill. 

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

Pond Cove Elementary School staff and parents hope to get the Town Council’s support for raising funds to pay for playground improvements at the Cape Elizabeth school. 

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