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Superintendent Closes Butler, Winn Brook Playgrounds

Both sites considered substandard; residents question timing and approach from school dept.

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“At both sites the equipment is not only outdated but presents serious safety hazards.”

Why now?

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.

K. Bonnin November 06, 2011 at 11:26 PM
Johanna - Wellington playgrounds were paid for by the PTO and PTO Morning/Aftercare Programs - because BPS elementary LABB program is based at Wellington, accomidations on the playgrounds were especially important and a large part of the 'beautiful' design. No "piggy-backing" for the "wealthy" (c'mon....really???) school.
captfb November 07, 2011 at 12:53 AM
@Dalton roader, 35k of the Wellington playgrounds were paid by the Wellington fundraising machine. The rest came out of the money approved by the Belmont voters. Ask them about those furnishings!
Martha C Bazakas November 07, 2011 at 04:40 AM
I'll never forget the school board meeting where I asked about the playgrounds and the response was that they are not the responsibility of the school district but of the PTA/PTO. And that since the PTO/PTA's had always paid for them they should continue to do so. Huh?! Public property the responsibility of a private non-profit? This also speaks to the budget process with it's underlying attitude of warped Yankee ingenuity: it's shameful to ask for more and we should try harder with what we have (even if it is threadbare). Sit in a school board meeting in another state with comparable schools and see a radically different attitude with pride in ownership. As for Wellington, I am glad there are new and safe playgrounds, and would expect that they are part of the school as they ARE really at all the other schools in Belmont. With regard to safety, there have been fixes done at both Butler and Winn Brook in the past 7 years or so. Since then, I have had three friends' children break their arms, etc at Butler's climber. The last article I read on Winn Brook in the BCH mentioned that dangerous, measurable chemicals were still on the wood climbers. Hopeful for the entire process to be public and just as fun for the kids going forward.
Johanna Swift Hart November 07, 2011 at 04:56 PM
@Dalton Roader, one of the things I like about this site is that people generally use their real names to comment. It increases civility. I was brave enough to own my opinion, and I think others should do the same. If you read my comment, you'll see I was not referring to Wellington's catchment area as the wealthier part of town. And if I'm wrong about the debt exclusion paying for a large portion of the playground equipment, please let me know the correct numbers. If the PTO paid for $35K, as "captfb" suggested, that accounts for some portion of the cost but certainly not nearly all of it. And FYI, there are LABBB students at Butler as well (duh) and I believe all new structures need to be ADA compliant anyway, so why is the Wellington playground special in that regard? But in your defensiveness you missed my point completely. I honestly don't begrudge Wellington kids an awesome playground. I supported the debt exclusion, helped a bit with the campaign, and made a donation as well. I just don't think the rules should be different for one school than for another school less than a mile away.
Jenn S August 30, 2012 at 07:18 PM
Those playgrounds weren't outdated. They were fun. Parents need to lighten the hell up.

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