Why has it taken so long for town officials to address the unsafe condition of the playground?
That’s the question several parents have been asking in the wake of the closing yesterday of the structures at the Butler and schools.
“How could it have deteriorated so much without anyone noticing,” asked a parent of a Butler School student.
“How could things have gone so far without any allocation of funds and then things happened so quickly (with tape indicating children could not enter the playground during school hours)?” the parent – who wished not to be identified – told Belmont Patch.
Students at the Butler and Winn Brook schools will not be able to enter the playgrounds during recess now that officials have announced concern with the age and safety of some of the town’s playground equipment and have taken steps to address them.
In a Thursday, Nov. 3 letter addressed to the Belmont school community, Belmont Superintendent Dr. Thomas Kingston announced he authorized a licensed play structure engineer to inspect the playgrounds and equipment at the Butler, and Winn Brook schools which is also known as Joey’s Park.
The Butler and Burbank sites are on school property; the Winn Brook structure is on property but is used during recess by Winn Brook children.
“Because of the serious findings about the Butler and Winn Brook equipment, I have closed the Butler equipment and directed that Winn Brook students not be allowed to play on the Winn Brook structure during recess,” Kingston wrote.
“At both sites the equipment is not only outdated but presents serious safety hazards.”
The fact that the school department is finally paying attention to the condition of the playground at the Butler School is due to parental pressure, said Patrick Whittemore, a Butler parent who lives on Bartlett Avenue.
Last year, Whittemore said, a number of parents brought the issue to the school department’s attention and this year he sent a number of E-mails to town officials and attended a recent School Committee meeting where he spoke about the unsafe conditions he’s seen at the Butler structure.
“My daughter is in the third grade at Butler and my wife and I have twins who will be in kindergarten there next year,” Whittemore said.
“I realized no one was doing anything about the playground and decided to get aggressive,” he said.
Together, he said, a large number of parents expressed concerns and that is why the playground, along with the one at Winn Brook during school hours, is being closed now.
“We were all over them and they had to react,” Whittemore said about the school department.
“The playground at Butler has not been maintained by the school department and is way beyond its half life.”
Definitely, he said, he is pleased that the school department has admitted to owning the playground and that it needs repairs.
But, Whittemore said, he hopes the issue does not stop just with a fence put around the structure.
Rather, he wants to see it repaired enough for children to be safe and then a community effort – with the Butler School community conducting fundraising and, hopefully, help from the school department – working toward building an entirely new playground.
Kingston wrote he was pleased to say that the Burbank site is in good condition and requires only continued maintenance.
“The School Department will continue to work with the parent groups and town officials to explore solutions to the safety concerns,” he wrote.
Assistant Superintendent Janice Darias said this morning, Friday, Nov. 4, that the town and school departments are working on how to develop cost effective actions for the improvements.
That may take several weeks, Kingston wrote, and asked that parents “understand the need for these actions and to exercise patience while we strive to address the problems.”
The engineer’s reports are available on the School Department website.