There appears to be some confusion among members of the Madison community about the new playground expenditures associated with the newly reconfigured Brown school.
In September of 2019, the Brown School will welcome all 4th and 5th graders, as part of the overall reconfiguration of the Madison school facilities. The Brown School campus was designed in the late 1960s to serve 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, and as a result, an appropriate play area, with respective structures, was not necessary for that specific population. Acknowledging this deficit in anticipation of serving 8, 9, and 10 year old children, the Board of Education embarked on the OPAL project.
A playground committee, comprising 4th and 5th grade teachers, special educators, physical education teachers and administrators, in addition to a landscape architect, worked collaboratively, consulting with current 4th and 5th grade students, to present a specific plan for Brown School. Their charge was to “make recommendations for a developmentally appropriate and engaging playground/learning space for Brown School as it transitions to a grade 4 and 5 school.” This group examined research on the developmental, physical and psychosocial needs of 8 to 10 year-olds, and incorporated recommendations from committee members based on practices and observations of grades 4 and 5. The team reviewed other playground designs and findings of the district-wide Whole Child Wellness Team. Finally, they surveyed 4th and 5th graders, providing choices that meet safety and developmental needs of the age group. Their recommendations were shared with a landscape architect who also assessed the existing physical conditions, and a plan was proposed with three main components: preliminary site work, installation of a play area, and outdoor learning facilities. Click here to see an itemized list of all proposed costs associated with the project, totaling approximately $800,000.
The first phase of the project, approved in December 2017, authorized site clearing and demolition. It is important to reiterate that this land had never been developed for a play area, so site improvements were a significant endeavor, including the clearing of trees and brush, adding drainage, and the addition of concrete retaining walls, stairs, and pathways. It was also important to create lines of sight for appropriate supervision of students during recess and to meet ADA requirements. Based on preliminary cost estimates, a total of $189,400 for preliminary site improvements was approved in the May 2018 Budget Referendum. This initial scope of work increased with the addition of easily installed gaga pits and swing sets, bringing the total to $265,771.
The next phase of the project includes a play surface and the installation of play equipment. The decision to install a poured-in-place play surface was based on a cost-benefit analysis in which an up-front investment in a nearly maintenance-free surface was chosen over ongoing, more expensive materials replacement and labor costs that come with other surface options. Primarily to better insure child welfare but also to reduce liability, purchased playground equipment must meet current safety standards and be properly installed. The proposed cost of the play area is $313,668 for play equipment installation and the poured-in-place play surface.
The final phase of the project includes the proposal for outdoor learning facilities. Individuals responsible for assessing the cost of such structures worked with consultants who serve both the town and the schools to develop structures that aren’t ivory but aren’t plywood either. Some have questioned the amount of time in the school year when such facilities can be used. As any parents of fourth and fifth graders know, children play and learn outside year-round, with exceptions only due to extreme temperatures or inclement weather. This usage is expected to include play during the two daily recesses, which were not part of the daily schedule for Brown as a middle school, as well as play in the afternoons and on the weekends.
All in the total cost of this play and learning investment would be roughly $800,000, which includes a 15% contingency. It should be recognized that these outlays are an investment designed to facilitate learning, promote emotional and physical well-being, accommodate the reconfiguration of the town’s school facilities in light of a decline in the student population, maximize student play safety while minimizing liability, and provide facilities for use by the community outside of school hours. It must continue to be emphasized that beaches and schools are the “draw” for the Madison community and for those considering moving here. These are the facts about the OPAL project at Brown school, and we look forward to the completion of this project for our town.