Mary Hogan school mulls playground future

MIDDLEBURY — The ID-4 school board is considering a comprehensive makeover of Mary Hogan Elementary School’s recreation areas, an initiative boosters will likely complete in phases using grants, donations and volunteer labor.
David Raphael, principal of Middlebury-based LandWorks, on Monday presented Middlebury’s ID-4 board with some ideas for replacing the aging-but-popular Kidspace apparatus while adding some new amenities and landscaping.
The board liked what it saw, according to ID-4 board Chairwoman Karen Lefkoe.
“The plans are very preliminary right now, but it’s very exciting,” Lefkoe said.
“I think it has been a great, positive, broadening experience for all of us.”
The process began early last year when voters agreed to earmark $10,000 from the ID-4 education reserve fund to hire LandWorks to design new playground and recreation spaces along the northern and eastern borders of the Mary Hogan building.
A key component of the plan is the proposed removal and replacement of Kidspace, erected back in 1987 with the help of hundreds of community volunteers. The wooden structure, school officials said, has reached its reasonable life expectancy and is showing signs of wear and tear that require substantial maintenance. The ID-4 Facilities/Playground Committee has been working with Raphael, students, teachers and community members on alternatives.
Raphael said each of his design options includes gardens, outdoor gathering spaces of different scales, environmental education opportunities related to the wetland located to the east of the school, relocation and consolidation of some of the existing playground equipment, and a full range of natural playscapes and manufactured play equipment.
Plans also call for a clearly defined “welcome area” in the front yard of the school and inclusion of an “imprint wall” on which students and teachers could place their handprints on individual tiles. Students could take their tiles with them when they graduate from the school.
Raphael said he is aware of the community’s affection for Kidspace and he is carefully planning replacement options. Those, options, he said, are likely to include a “natural playground area” featuring earth, tree parts, stone, along with state-of-the-art manufactured play equipment.
Also under consideration: A combination of a natural playground area and a man-made, wooden playscape that maintains the tradition of Kidspace.
“While we will not be duplicating Kidspace, we will be reflecting many of the play elements that were successful in Kidspace in the new design opportunities we have developed,” Raphael said.
Raphael’s plans also feature scenarios for gardens, paths, an outdoor amphitheater, a shrub labyrinth, outdoor checkerboard, greenhouse, play berm, playhouse, swinging benches and bird feeders.
Implementing most or all of the recreation improvements could top $100,000, according to Raphael, a sum that supporters are committed to raising independent of the ID-4 budget. School officials hope to begin the improvements this summer and phase them in as time and funds will allow.
And community members will have ample opportunity to weigh in on the design and manufacture of the upgrades.
“There will be plenty of opportunities to engage the public to swing a hammer or plant a tree,” Raphael said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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