Community-built wood playground no longer meets safety, development requirements
By Polly Mikula
Killington Elementary School’s (KES) wooden playground, Kids’ Kingdom, has come to the end of its useful life and it will be removed in the coming weeks. The one-of-a-kind structure was build by the community 30 years ago.
“The Dept. of Children and Families deems it unsafe for 3- and 4-year-olds. Older children continue to get deep wood splinters and bang their heads on the many hidden posts and beams. The structure is deteriorating and a Band-Aid approach will no longer work on this dated, yet much loved Kids’ Kingdom,” wrote Mary Guggenberger, school principal, in a newsletter to parents May 21.“Kids’ Kingdom has long been a valued treasure at KES. All the funding was raised outside of the school budget, the lumber donated, and construction was a labor of love for local families. The project was done more than 30 years ago with some major, and quite costly, repair work done on it about 11 years ago. Today, the design and construction of the Kingdom no longer meets the developmental and safety criteria of all KES students,” Guggenberger wrote.
Soon after the school year ends, Friday, June 11, Andrew Gieda from InStone Design will begin to dismantle Kids Kingdom. The plan is to replace the wooden structure with developmentally age appropriate and safe play areas on the field behind the school leaving room on the lawn for organized games and free play around it. The bridge will be replaced over the river to access the playground.
BCI Burke Company from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, was selected for the playground design. BCI Burke “has been providing recreational playground equipment for over 90 years and has developed the right mix of world-class capabilities to meet the initial and continuing needs of Killington Elementary School. We believe our proposal will meet or exceed your project’s requirements and will deliver the greatest value to you,” Jill Hagen, of BCI Burke Company wrote to Guggenberger, May 5.
The structure has a section specifically designed for kids age 2-5 years and a separate area for kids 5-12 years. The total playground dimensions are about 50 feet by 100 feet and it will have a maximum capacity of 131 people.
The new playground is a custom configuration based on the requirements as they have been presented for the Killington Elementary School playground project, BCI Burke wrote in its proposal. “Our custom design will provide a safe and affordable playground environment that is aesthetically pleasing, full of fun for all users and uniquely satisfies your specific requirements.”
Plans for the replacing the playground have long been in the works as the structure deteriorates each year and more current developmentally appropriate elements are needed.
Guggenberger picked out some of the elements herself from the BCI Burke Company catalogue, but said many of the choices were determined by the need to provide appropriate sensory development for all ages — from 3 to 12 years old.
“There had to be climbing, spinning and swinging elements among others that were age appropriate to meet the development recommendations of the various age groups,” Guggenberger said. “Targeting the elements that would meet our needs really dictated our choices.”
Developers at BCI Burke helped, too, recommending elements that would meet the school’s budget and provide the appropriate sensory experiences, she added.
“It was also really important to me that we keep room in the field for soccer and capture the flag,” said Guggenberger. “I didn’t want to fill up the field with all synthetic elements. Those activities need a place to be.”
“We also want to honor Kids’ Kingdom and are working on various ways to do that,” she said. Some small elements like four benches will be salvaged from the current structure and installed by the new one.
Guggenberger said there will be many additional benefits to moving the playground into the field next to the school. “Currently the kids are playing in a parking lot. When they run, like playing tag at recess, it can be difficult to supervise — and they’re falling on pavement… We currently don’t use the field space as much as we will. It comes down to supervision… even if I had all the teachers are out it’s hard to supervise multiple play areas.”
The field will provide a “safer play area” with more options for kids and easier supervision, Guggenberger summarized.
By moving the play area out of the middle of the parking lot, more parking will be created, too. The new playground has been been ordered and is expected to be installed soon after the bridge is replaced. It will be installed by the manufacturer.
“Site work is expected to start June 14 and we are hoping the new playground will be ready for an official opening and dedication barbecue on Aug. 30,” Guggenberger said, noting that construction timelines are subject to many factors that could delay the project, such as weather.
Reaching for the stars
In addition to safety, “the current Kids Kingdom is an impediment to our Pre-K achieving the highest star rating,” Guggenberger explained. The KES prekindergarten program participates in STARS (Step Ahead Recognition System), Vermont’s quality recognition system for public preschools going above and beyond the standard regulations for children and families. According to those standards, the school lacks an age-appropriate safe play environment that simulates 3- to 5-year old sensory development.
“The KES student population continues to grow despite (or perhaps because of) a pandemic and for next school year the prekindergarten program is completely full with a growing wait list. Should that trend continue, KES could see an expansion of prekindergarten in the near future,” Guggenberger said.
This summer an additional bathroom will be added to the Pre-K classroom to accommodate a possible future expansion. There are currently 19 enrolled Pre-K students next year with an additional 7 on the waitlist, Guggenberger said. At Woodstock Elementary, also in the Windsor Central School District, demand for pre-K has led to the school adding a third class and there are still students on its waitlist.
The new playground is being funded by a variety of sources. The PEAKS (Parent and Educators Aligned for Killington Students) has set a goal to fundraise for the initial cost of the equipment, $79,601.
“Inspired by our initial success, the group is currently considering a possible phase two for this project,” said PEAKS President Kimberly Harris. “We are currently confirmed at $41K .”
The school district has set aside $100,000 for the project, which includes demolition, site preparation, materials (such as rubber mulch at $14,115) and installation. There is some funding available from the from federal and state sources as well as from a state non-profit, Guggenberger said.
PEAKS is continuing to fundraise. Thus far, generous donations have been committed by The Karr Group, Boston Children’s Hospital Anesthesia Foundation, the Ottaquechee Health Foundation, and Casella Waste Management.
Coming up on Saturday, June 5 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. the Foundry at Summit Pond will host the annual Huck Finn Catfish Derby. Proceeds will benefit the fundraising efforts.
“We are still looking for corporate/business donors if any local businesses or organizations would like to contribute,” said Lorelei Grazier Danilchick, PEAKS member. “This is a ‘once in 50-years’ type of project and we will be recognizing all donors. PEAKS normally looks to raise $5,000 each year to help the school, so clearly this is unique. We will be rolling out a community outreach program so that individuals can participate as well.”
“Donations should be made out to Sherburne Education Foundation and mailed to: PO Box 998, Killington, Vt.,” said Sarah Zack Hewitt, PEAKS treasurer.