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“At both sites the equipment is not only outdated but presents serious safety hazards.”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

Belmont_Conservative November 04, 2011 at 05:15 PM
How can this article not even mention the completely re-done basketball courts etc. at the Butler?
Joe November 04, 2011 at 05:44 PM
I thought Joey's Park was just re-done? I recall an article here a short time ago about all the volunteering that was done to complete it, or was that just the basketball court
David Chase November 04, 2011 at 06:21 PM
@BC - the basketball courts are staying open. The problem is the playground equipment itself, which despite the efforts of PTAs and volunteers to maintain and improve, have fallen behind current safety standards. I think there are also ADA issues, not sure if these are triggered by the simple passage of time, or by the accumulated money spent on repairs. Never mind what you or I think of safety standards, if we don't meet them and a kid gets hurt, we've got bad legal exposure. There's some complicating things; for years, the school department has maintained that the playgrounds are Not Theirs (but from the article above, this may have changed). The money required for serious maintenance or replacement is surprisingly large; beyond the financial abilities of most PTAs (I recall something like $40k, or $80k). There are other customers of these playgrounds -- the afterschool programs, for example. And from time to time kids do get hurt on the playgrounds, though so far, not badly. Our oldest picked up some stitches many years ago. I've done several Saturdays of gravel spreading many years back. But gravel no longer meets standards. and the wood-looking artificial stuff really is better.
Susan Danseyar November 04, 2011 at 07:09 PM
Joe: The article you are referring to was about a community effort to re-build the basketball courts at Winn Brook. John Carson, who spearheaded the effort, said work on Joey's Park was an inspiration for him.
Voice of the people November 05, 2011 at 11:54 AM
Here's something new: NO PREVENTIVE MAINTENANCE !! Wait until something is ready to fall down and then respond with drastic steps. Solution- Sneak your kids onto the Belmont day School playground It is pristine That's my take from "high up on the hill"
Johanna Swift Hart November 06, 2011 at 02:10 PM
Based on his/her previous comments, I think BC was implying that public money was recently spent on the basketball courts. This is completely incorrect. The resurfacing of the basketball courts was accomplished with private fundraising spearheaded by Libby and Marc Firenze to honor their late son, MJ, who loved to play basketball at his school until his tragic death in 2009. Speaking of public funding, it has always bothered me that responsibility for building and maintaining playgrounds has been abdicated by the BPS to the PTA/PTOs, especially since it's no secret that some parts of town are much wealthier than other parts. The ghetto-ization of Butler students is shameful. Furthermore, I supported the debt exclusion to build the new Wellington, because it was the right thing to do, but I did not realize that the beautiful new playground there was paid for as part of the deal. That must have cost close to $100K, if not more. Why are taxpayers responsible for play equipment there, but not at the other schools? Unlike "conservatives" who don't want to pay for anything, I'd argue that it is indeed the responsibility of the town to provide safe play equipment for ALL its kids, not just the ones who live in wealthy neighborhoods or who benefitted from the piggybacking of funds from a much larger project.
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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