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Butler Community Press For Urgent Playground Response by Town

Parent Teacher's meeting devoted to fundraising and town funding assistance. Take the Patch Poll on the issue.

Two camps are emerging from the of the .

One segment are parents of students furious with the town for what they believe is a total lack of interest in helping with the dilapidated playground on White Street.

The other group believe those same officials have expressed a commitment to work with the school as best they can in the coming months.

The sides came together as more than 40 parents and residents, along with School Committee Chairman Laurie Graham, crammed into the Butler's second floor library on Tuesday night, Nov. 8, for a PTA meeting in which the main topic was the closing the playground by Superintendent Dr. Thomas Kingston on Nov. 4.

The closing came after a safety inspection of the playground found the structure and play structures seriously compromised.

A playground run by the town's Recreation Department adjacent to the Winn Brook School was also closed the same day due to safety concerns.

For some, the closure is the result of benign neglect by town and school officials who must now step up to right the problem.

The town has ignored the plight of the Butler children and must help pay for a new playground, said one parent several times during the meeting, phrasing her frustration in different words but conveying the same message in each instance.

Other parents voiced similar dissatisfactions and said the town and school department have abdicated responsibility for the community’s school playgrounds and left their upkeep to funds raised by individual school Parent/Teacher groups.

Some parents, however, expressed hope and said a more positive attitude is necessary to work with the town on getting a new playground for the Butler School.

“I understand the anger,” said Lillia Halpern-Smith, explaining that she felt the same way for a while.

“But we have to work with the town and see how we can all work this out. We need to try to rally and be positive,” she noted.

Crate Herbert offered a “different spin” on ways to look at the current situation.

“Fundraising can be fun,” she said.

“I’d like to think how we can collaborate and have been very impressed with the collaboration we’ve had so far with the town.”

Herbert said she believes the Butler community and town can work together to come up with a solution quickly.

“The PTA has reached out which is how you are able to do things like this,” she said. “With every crisis comes a huge opportunity,” she said.

“The more we can reach across, the more successful we will be.”

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Butler Principal Michael McAllister concurred that the school’s Playground Committee – consisting of six members – and PTA have been in contact with officials and that they have responded postively to their quiries.

He said Kingston, who will be consulting with a different playground inspector for accuratacy of the committee's findings and objectivity, has been advised on a mitigation plan.

“Once we receive the plan (predicted to occur in about three weeks), the district will determine a plan going forward,” McAllister said.

“Our hope is to be able to fix some equipment to expected safety standards and reopen much of the structure if possible,” said the principal.

The current effort, he said, is toward remediation.

“If it turns out that is not possible, it is possibly true that we are we looking at a winter without a structure.”

McAllister said he encourages the PTA to move forward with fundraising efforts for the new playground while still keeping a close eye on the district’s efforts to remediate the existing structure.

To date, the Playground Committee has raised about $3,000.

In fact, McAllister reported, steps have already been made to look for money from sources other than the PTA toward building a new playground.

“Last night, the Playground Committee and PTA leadership met with Will Brownsberger to talk about fundraising,” he informed the group.

“Does the town have money (to help with the playground)? That’s what we asked Brownsberger (on Nov. 7),” McAllister said.

“If we ask the town, we wanted to know what’s the process for that,” he said. “(Brownsberger) and Kingston have recommended we go to Capital Budget Committee. We would hope the town will recognize it’s an emergency situation.”

McAllister said Kingston will put the request in his report this year for the Capital Budget Committee chaired by Pat Brauch.

Obviously, more funds are needed so the PTA hopes to raise $20,000 (by cutting back on some items in its budget); find matching funds of $20,000 from parents and other donors; get another $20,000 from the morning- and after-care program, bringing the total to $60,000.

“Our goal was to raise $60,000 by June,” McAllister said.

“That was an accurate sense of what we can get. Now I would turn that into worst-case scenario. There’s more urgency so I would imagine there’s more need now to have this playground built before June.”

Several parents asked how the Butler community could involve the town more in the fundraising process.

“The town is hearing us,” McAllister said.

“There are two elements to the committee; we have to look into the funding structure and fundraising. People are taking notice because we are getting the word out there.”

PTA co-president Emily Westover said the group is hopeful they will be able to get close to funding a playground structure.

“When we go to the town, we can tell them how much we need to get a playground and ask what can we do to make this happen,” she said.

“We want to get people informed even though we don’t have complete data. We think we will have success when we go to the town with a specific plan.”

In the meantime, McAllister urged parents to join the playground committee, give money to the playground fund and help with a coordinated effort to provide items for children to play with now.

 

Principal Mike McAllister said there are several things he would like Butler parents to keep in mind during this period of time when everyone is concerned about the future of the playground.

• “The Playground Committee and PTA are committed to working with the school and town departments and we trust everyone has the best interests of children in mind."
• "Butler received emails from other PTOs and they are all committed to doing the best we can for all Belmont children. We are interested in opening up a conversation with them on a plan."
• "People have asked us to look into the Wellington funding. Was it a combination of town and PTO funds? Can we expect a similar resolution? If that’s what the Wellington got, can we as well"
• "We are formulating a revised playground plan and are gathering more information to solidify that plan. We had a tiered plan but that has to change a bit if we don’t have a structure. We are working on a revised playground phase program and I will give you that information as soon as I know it"
• "Parents can help by checking the Butler School website. The section on the playground has all the information we have: closing letter, inspection report, renovation plans, Butler PTA presentation, Miller Design Presentation."
• "There are responses on the site to comments and questions from the Butler community. I will add to it as new information becomes available."
• "Our big challenge is communication. Send me an email. I’m out on the blacktop every morning so catch me and ask me a question."
• "Volunteer for the Playground Committee. We all have a vested interest. Moving forward, we will need more than the five or six people we have now."
• "Contribute to the playground fund."
Johanna Swift Hart November 11, 2011 at 03:03 PM
"Deferred maintenance" is a problem all over town, not just on the playgrounds. Belmont voters' refusal to pass small overrides has resulted in crumbling infrastructure, and anyone who takes care of their own home knows this inevitably leads to a much more expensive fix. As a Butler parent (and neighborhood homeowner) I'm obviously disappointed with the playground situation, but as a Town Meeting Member I understand the problems go far, far deeper than the extreme neglect of our modest play structure.

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