PAWTUCKET – Families concerned about the condition of two local school playgrounds will have to wait until next summer to see major upgrades.
The Pawtucket School Committee is now doing homework on whether to shut down the Curtis Elementary School playground off Benefit Street temporarily in response to concerns raised by parent Sarah Seelbach and others about removed and broken equipment and resulting lack of safety.
Though a city inspector ruled the playground behind the school safe to play on, school board member Marsha Fernandes said during an April 18 school board meeting that she doesn’t see how the district can keep it open based on its current condition, saying she was shocked at seeing so much of the equipment removed.
“We probably shouldn’t have the gate open,” Fernandes said.
Fernandes said she was disappointed in herself that she only recently learned about the playground’s condition despite living nearby, and other committee members echoed that sentiment.
Pawtucket has Facility Equity Initiative grants to replace playgrounds at Curtis Elementary and Cunningham Elementary on Baldwin Street, but the process of obtaining those grants and a 25-week lead time on equipment means they won’t be ready for construction until next summer, as approved with a grant extension through Dec. 31.
Curvin-McCabe Elementary School, meanwhile, is set to see construction of an accessible playground this summer, as previously reported by The Breeze.
Mother of three children Seelbach, in her testimony to the committee, said swings have been completely removed, and the Curtis playground’s large structure is seeing rusting and chipping metal with sharp edges. The climbing wall at the playground is losing pieces, she said, and the floor of the playground is cracked. She said there are numerous other issues including potholes and lack of landscaping, and she’s found condoms in the area. Further, she added, children in wheelchairs can’t access the current play area. She asked the committee when they foresee the work happening.
School officials said they expect to order some equipment this fall. RIDE, they said, approved extensions to almost all districts receiving awards.
Committee member Kim Grant said that as quickly as school leaders want to get the improvements in place, unfortunately there are processes that need to be followed, and they want to make sure they’re done in the right way. She said she understands that parents in the Curtis area and Pinecrest neighborhood are concerned, and while they would snap their fingers and make the improvements happen if they could, if they don’t follow the right processes, the new playgrounds might not be built at all.
Member Joanne Bonollo said it would be good to get the more pressing issues with the playground addressed now.
District staff explained that the swings were removed because a crossbar between two legs of it broke, compromising its integrity. Assistant Director of Facilities Kris Silva said mulch has been added and they can shave down cement footings, as well as add the recently arrived universal handholds to the rock wall. Cunningham’s playground is perhaps in a little worse shape, he said.
Silva said they’re trying to find paperwork on the Curtis playground from when it was installed 20 or 25 years ago to see if there are any replacement parts they might be able to acquire.
Grant said she concurred with Fernandes that the playground should probably be closed due to safety concerns. She said they need to make sure it’s safe before someone gets hurt.
Committee member Erin Dube noted that an inspector did deem the playground safe, saying she’s not sure if the Curtis community is calling for the play area to be shut down, and it’s not her job to override their will.
Supt. Lisa Benedetti-Ramzi said there are probably steps they can take to make the playground safer as interim fixes. She noted that there was some damage inflicted by someone apparently lighting the mulch on fire.
Grant said that without much equipment there, she worries that it will continue to attract “the wrong people,” and she thinks it needs to be locked until officials can “make sure it’s extremely safe” for children.
Member Jen Carney said she would hate to think about closing the playground simply out of fear that someone might set another fire. She said the committee should bring the city inspector to report to them on the playground’s condition for their next session, adding that “spot fixes” should be considered before any decision to close it. Carney said that an evaluation of Cunningham should be done as well, since it was described as being in as bad or worse shape than Curtis.
The grants awarded for the two playgrounds equal $783,721 for the one at Curtis and $1.145 million for the one at Cunningham.
I am all for fixing playgrounds especially where kids are going to play and hang out but they fix one playground. I think they should fit all the playgrounds at the schools. Agnes little hasn’t had a suitable playground in years. They have some climbing things and that’s about it they should fix that one as well and make it accessible for all kids
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