Portland's Peaks Island school has big hopes for playground

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PORTLAND — When asked what they’d like to see added to their playground at Peaks Island Elementary School, students made some outside-the-box suggestions, including a candy or pizza shop.

Unfortunately for the students, it’s unlikely the $2,000 School Ground Greening Grant that Peaks Island Elementary has received would cover the costs of such suggestions, or that adults overseeing the project would agree.

The goal of the grant, according to Renee Bourgoine-Serio, the lead teacher at the school, is to transform the school yard into a natural play space and outdoor classroom.

Other suggestions for the playground project from students included putting in a bounce house and installing an outdoor movie screen – or maybe a trampoline park or a swimming pool.

Bourgoine-Serio said school staff got a kick out of some of the suggestions made by students. Their own ideas were a little more practical and included adding vegetable and flower beds and possibly a chicken coop, along with replacing broken and outdated playground equipment. 

To help with planning for the new outdoor space, Peaks Island Elementary will hold a community charrette Wednesday, May 3, from 1-3:30 p.m.

The purpose of the session is to “discuss and brainstorm ideas to make our school yard a place where children can play, learn, nibble and grow,” the invitation states. “We have a grant and landscape architect to help us develop this area and would love your input.”

Questions to be asked at the charrette, Bourgoine-Serio said, include “How best (to use) our school yard as a place to invite exploration of our environment by creating a beautiful and interesting natural play space that might also serve as an outdoor classroom and a community space for food and flowers and native edible plants.”

The school yard is fairly small, not even a full acre, but Bourgoine-Serio said it’s important to focus on the school’s outdoor space to provide “a sense of place, (which) is a huge piece of island life.”

In addition, she said, “All of our project-based curriculum surrounds the idea of living and learning in a sustainable setting. In that way, it makes sense for the outside of our school to reflect the values and behaviors on the inside.”

The overall goal with the grant is “to create a master plan that is more relevant, useful and aesthetically pleasing, as well as (find) ways to engage our year-round and summer community more meaningfully,” Bourgoine-Serio said.

“With enough stakeholders and creative ideas, we can develop our school yard to better meet our community’s needs while offering a vibrant living classroom for student and community engagement.”

Once the playground project is finished, Bourgoine-Serio said it’s “our vision that (it become) an attraction for everyone who lives on or visits Peaks Island. We want to have a diverse enough outdoor space to appeal to visitors of all ages.”

She said the original $2,000 grant is just to get a start on a master plan. “Once we have both a short-term and long-term plan for re-creating our playground,” she said, “we will seek out and apply for grants to fund projects, both large and small.”

“People of all ages visit our playground in the evenings and on weekends,” Bourgoine-Serio added. “Our wish is that even more people seek to spend their free time and recreational time at our school and on our play areas.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

Adding a chicken coop may be one of the steps taken under a grant to substantially improve the playground at Peaks Island Elementary in Portland.