In April 2011, after a routine safety inspection, the wooden playground structure at Benton Hall Academy was found to have serious safety issues. The structural integrity of the playground equipment had been compromised by rotting wood just below the ground surface.
Consequently, in order to prevent the possibility of an injury, Little Falls City School District officials decided the prudent action to follow would be to take the playground down. Now, 18 months later, a new playground will take its place in time for the start of the 2012 - 2013 school year.
District Business Manager Clete McLaughlin said in an email the playground equipment was delivered to the site on Monday and is expected to be completely assembled within three or four days.
“After the installation, the district, with the assistance of the city of Little Falls Department of Public Works, will put in place the new wood chip safety surface in time for the opening day of school on Sept. 5. A dedication ceremony is planned shortly thereafter,” McLaughlin said in the email.
After the removal of the old playground, which was built in 1997, McLaughlin said the district set out on a fundraising campaign as it did not have the necessary financial resources readily available to do the project otherwise. At the same time, he said parameters were developed to define the design of the new playground and the scope of the project. Based on previous experience, along with research and investigation, McLaughlin said the project budget was set at $125,000, inclusive of the playground equipment, professional installation and required site work.
“Raising $125,000 is a daunting task, even in the best of economic times. However, with support coming from all corners of the community, the funding goal was recently met,” he said in the email.
In addition to the financial factors, McLaughlin said other considerations were the desire to replicate the size and play content of the previous playground; the need to locate the playground equipment within the existing site; the absolute necessity to maintain the aesthetics of Eastern Park and the school grounds; an emphasis on long-term durability with minimal daily and annual maintenance and the importance of safety, handicap accessibility and code compliance.
“Entertaining three different playground proposals, the board of education selected a preferred design which it believed best satisfied the criteria,” McLaughlin said in the email.
The new playground will incorporate multiple platforms of varying heights, five slides, eight distinctive climbing opportunities, nine interactive play panels, a separate free standing track glide and a two bay swing set with four seat swings. The posts supporting the new play structure will be made of fiberglass reinforced polymer, which McLaughlin said comes with a lifetime guarantee.
“FRP posts will never rust, are impervious to any kind of weather and do not conduct heat or cold in the same way that steel posts do ... Platforms, ramps and bridges on the playground will be made of Trex material. Trex provides a child-friendly, low maintenance, slip-resistant surface even when wet ... The use of pertinent colors, varying dimensions, alternating heights and angles and assorted roof configurations will serve to compliment the aesthetic beauty of Eastern Park and Benton Hall Academy, while nicely occupying the available space,” he said in the email.
Page 2 of 2 - McLaughlin said the school district required the installation plans to be stamped by a licensed landscape architect inclusive of certification that the plans are in compliance with all federal and state safety regulations. In addition, he said the installation team is mandated to have professional training and certification in accordance with Consumer Product Safety Commission guidelines. The addition of a dedicated surveillance camera will also contribute to the security of the playground site, he said.
To commemorate the generosity of the community, McLaughlin said a plaque will be placed adjacent to the entrance of the playground in Eastern Park listing its benefactors.