New playground brings ‘great change’

Kathryn Coon photos
Renovation of the school building isn’t the only aspect of the Miller-Driscoll Building Project. The school’s two playgrounds are, too.

As of March, the budget for the entire Miller-Driscoll School renovation project is expected to come in around $42.4 million, $295,000 of which was budgeted for playgrounds.

The playground for kindergarten through second grade was relocated from the front of the school to the rear of the building for greater security, and is now accessible from the cafeteria. Students have been playing on it for some time, Miller-Driscoll Building Committee member Gretchen Jeane­s told The Bulletin.

Jeanes led a subcommittee — comprised of herself, fellow building committee member Mandi Schmauch, committee advisers Patti Temple and Bernadette Hess, and Miller-Driscoll Principal Kathy Coon — that focused on the school’s new playgrounds.

The preschool playground, which won’t be installed until July or August, will be “toward the front, north end of the school” near the preschool wing, said Jeanes.

Playground subcommittee

The playground subcommittee made sure Parks and Recreation Director Steve Pierce was involved in the planning process, said Jeanes, and worked with resident Vivian Lee-Shiue, who helped renovate the playground at Merwin Meadows.

The subcommittee worked with Peter R. Wallace, park and playground consultant with outdoor equipment supplier O’Brien & Sons, playground design firm Landscape Structures, and Barry M. Blades, landscape architect with Blades & Goven landscape design firm.

Subcommittee members also met with teachers, administrators and parents to look at playground design­s and a school social worker to make sure the the playgrounds would accommodate all students, including those with special needs and disabilities.

“We made sure there was accessibility for both playgrounds for handicapped students,” said Jeanes, who indicated about 20 hours was spent planning the new playgrounds.

“I would say we had about four meetings specific to only the playgrounds,” she said, “and I did some research as well.”


Jeanes said the new K-2 playground is “very different” from the old one. It includes musical components like a drum and xylophone-like instrument, which, she said, the building committee was “really excited about.”

In addition, “Rather than a lot of flat surfaces, there are a lot of climbing apparatuses available,” she said.

The playground subcommittee looked at “what is current right now,” said Jeanes, and included “a lot of vertical rises and different ways to climb.”

However, she pointed out, “we did keep flat areas for accessibility for students who don’t have the mobility to do that.”

One “major decision” the committee had to make was choosing a material for the flooring of the playground.

“There was a big conversation about if we were going to have soft rubber covering or if we were going to do the wood chips,” said Jeanes.

“We relied on advice from the manufacturer, as well as what had been done in town already — what worked and what didn't work — how long it would last, maintenance,” said Jeanes, “and we looked to [Wallace] and his experience.”

Jeanes said “a lot of factors were involved,” including cost, which played a big role in the final decision to use wood chips.

Jeanes said she and fellow playground subcommittee members “felt that teachers would have a much more in-depth understanding of what students would need and what would be practical,” but they also spoke to several students to find out what their ideal playground would be like.

The subcommittee learned there were “certain things all kids want” like swings, said Jeanes, “so we made sure there were a good number of swings for everybody.”

Making sure there was enough space so “a lot of kids can play at the same time” was another factor in the design process, said Jeanes.

Preschool playground

While the preschool playground will also have musical features, Jeanes said, it will be “very different” from the K-2 playground because it will be used by younger students.

Design renderings show it will be more simple than the K-2 playground. It will have swings — including a molded bucket swing, a drum and slides.

Jeanes said the subcommittee looked for ways to make the preschool playground accommodating for all Miller-Driscoll’s youngest learners, a number of whom have special needs.

For example, Jeanes said, there will be a rubber-covered area around the outside of the preschool playground to make it easy for physical and occupational therapy staff to move equipment and work with students outside.

Jeanes said it was “really exciting” to help plan and design Miller-Driscoll’s new playgrounds.

“Knowing what I grew up with as a child and what was there before,” she said, “it’s a great change and really adds a lot to the school.”

Click here to learn more about the Miller-Driscoll Building Project.