The Recorder – Officials seek grant for new Hillcrest Primary School playground

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TURNERS FALLS — In preparation for the next grant cycle, Hillcrest Elementary School held a public outreach meeting on Tuesday to discuss the design of a potential new playground.

The short-lived meeting was led by Montague Deputy City Administrator Walter Ramsey, Franklin County Regional Housing and Redevelopment Authority Community Development Manager Brian McHugh, Gill Regional School District Superintendent -Montague, Brian Beck, and Berkshire Design Group landscaper, Doug Serrill. The designs presented by Serrill represented an accessible and modern community playground that would promote the sensorimotor development of children. Designs must be submitted for review by March 2023.

Hillcrest Elementary School principal Sarah Burstein said the idea of ​​building a new playground has been mooted for “several years now.” She recalled that the discussions had started around 2018 following the observation of the deteriorating condition of the existing playground.

“I’m sure anyone who’s walked our turf knows it’s really getting old and in need of significant development,” she said.

Serrill observed that the existing structures are not only outdated and decrepit, but limited in how they serve those who play. The issues he cited ranged from inaccessibility for people with disabilities to limitations in the variety of equipment.

“There’s a whole range of play styles that kids and adults need for our social, emotional, and physical well-being,” Serrill explained.

The proposed playground, which received a cost estimate of $431,582 in March, includes equipment made by Landscape Structures Inc. Everything would be “easy to build” and “really well done,” according to Serrill. Some play equipment featured includes boulders for climbing, balance-boosting walkways, undulating slides, ladders, and brain-boosting hands-on facilities. Additionally, the playground would include new gathering spaces, such as a clubhouse for “impromptu gatherings” and a woodchip courtyard surrounded by boulders that would serve as both an outdoor classroom and a place to “ passive or imaginative play”. Notably, some aspects of the current playground, such as a swing set and shed, would remain.

If built, the playground would not only benefit the school community, but the neighborhood more broadly, officials said. This distinction is necessary for the project to qualify for a community development block grant, Ramsey explained. According to McHugh, if the grant is awarded, construction will likely begin in the summer of 2024.

The potential for the playground to be used independently of the school also means the project would be largely unhindered by the eventual demolition of the Hillcrest School building, Ramsey added. Joanne Blier, director of business and operations for the Gill-Montague Regional School District, previously defined the prospect of demolition as a matter of financial and infrastructural practicality, noting that the Massachusetts School Building Authority estimated that major repairs to the building would cost $6.86 million. This estimate, she said, represents “a huge amount of money to invest in two of our old buildings which are overcrowded” and lack certain school needs.

The district is preparing to submit an expression of interest as part of the process of seeking funding for a new school from the building authority. Blier said the new facility, estimated to cost $55million, would be built next to the current Sheffield Primary School and classes would be moved out of the old Hillcrest Primary School.

“We don’t know what the city will ultimately do with the building,” Beck said, adding that he had informed the Selectboard of the district’s intentions to explore options.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or [email protected]

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