WEST NEWBURY — The Community Preservation Committee unanimously agreed a request for more than half a million dollars to construct a playground for Dr. John C. Page Elementary School meets the requirements to be on the Town Meeting warrant this spring.

But the committee held off on voting whether to recommend it until the members meet next month.

The current playground, installed behind the school in the late 1990s, is available for about 345 students during the school day. It’s also used for the town’s summer recreation program.

The playground is unusable three or four months each year because of stormwater issues. In addition, the wood chip surface and structures do not comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

“It was never compliant,” Town Manager Angus Jennings told committee members when he presented the proposal on behalf of selectmen at a meeting last week.

The Community Preservation Act request for $556,612 would be used to replace the current playground with one that includes an ADA compliant pour-in-place surface and accessible equipment to ensure all children can use it.

But Jennings stressed that the design is just in the preliminary stages and is likely to evolve. The plan would be to hold forums to receive public input on the playground design so the community feels involved in the process, he said.

Jennings acknowledged that the conceptual design and corresponding budget were “on the high end.” He believes a nice playground accessible to all children could likely be achieved for closer to $375,000 to $400,000.

The estimate from consultant O’Brien & Sons Inc. was provided as a way to get a general idea of the cost and to meet stipulations as part of the committee’s application process in time for its January deadline, he said.

Jennings began his presentation by noting that the effort to replace the aging playground is being spearheaded by a group of Page School parents and personnel, who have also been researching possible grants to help defray costs.

Selectmen are considering creating a municipal gift fund to receive private donations for the project, Jennings said, noting that he was already contacted by one donor who indicated a willingness to contribute $40,000.

Public Works Director Wayne Amaral estimates the total site work — from engineering services through removal of the current structures, site preparation and final grading — will could $85,000.

O’Brien & Sons gave a quote of $229,225 to buy playground equipment from Landscape Structures Inc., $142,357 for poured-in-place rubber surfacing from Surface America, and $100,000 to install the new equipment.

The town has already received $20,000 from the state that would fund an accessible walkway from the back parking lot to the swings, two additional ADA swings, a new surface under the swings, and engineering costs to resolve the site’s drainage issues.

If the Community Preservation Act request is approved this spring, the goal is to begin site work for the new playground over the summer and complete the project by fall.

All applications for Community Preservation Act funding are subject to a two-step process. First, the committee votes on whether the request qualifies for the money based on its use for affordable housing, historic preservation, or open space and recreation. 

The committee then takes a second vote to indicate whether it recommends voters approve the spending.

Some on the committee expressed concern for what member Ray Cook called the “big dollar amount.”

Cook said he was torn because he also believes it’s important to spend enough to ensure the quality of the product, noting he has been disappointed with previous Page School renovations. He wondered if other resources might be tapped as well. The committee asked Jennings to come back in February with a few design scenarios for them to consider.

“I think we can make it smaller and still make it nice,” said committee Chairwoman Sherry Pruyn.

According to the Pentucket Regional Agreement, the school district is responsible for routine maintenance at the elementary schools, while each of the three district towns covers capital improvements at the schools. Capital improvements are defined as items that are valued greater than $10,000 and have a shelf life of more than five years.

Previously, some town officials in the Pentucket Regional School District have complained that smaller problems become capital needs when regular maintenance is lacking.

Jennings said Pentucket Facilities Manager Gregg Hadden is aware of the maintenance needs of the facilities under his purview, but the school budget for this type of work has been “woefully underfunded” in recent years.

The application noted that a smaller playground on the grass in front of the school is also not handicapped accessible and would have to be addressed by the town at some point as well.

“We’ve got a lot of ADA-compliant issues around town,” Jennings said.

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