School renovation committee ups playground budget

At its meeting on Thursday, May 12, the Miller-Driscoll Building Committee agreed to increase the budget for two playgrounds by $100,000, from $195,000 to $295,000. Members came to agreement after a presentation by landscape architect Barry M. Blades and park and playground consultant Peter R. Wallace, who were invited to the meeting by architectural firm Tai Soo-Kim.

Blades handed out a series of illustrations that showed the type of playgrounds the committee’s $195,000 would buy. Subtracting $70,000 for a wood fiber surface and installation would leave $125,000 for equipment for the playgrounds — one for pre-K students and one for K-2.

Each illustration showed options for ground-based equipment and post-and-deck equipment. Finally, one illustration showed equipment options for a $294,000 budget, which had considerably more play options.

The committee was not being asked to specify designs, but to settle on a budget so design work could proceed. The hope is to have the playgrounds ready for the opening of school in September.

The footing presently specified is engineered wood fiber. Several committee members asked about rubber surface material. This type of footing consists of rubber granules mixed with liquid urethane that can be poured to a depth of one and three-quarters inches to four and one-half inches. The depth would depend on the type of playground equipment chosen.

Blades described it as “like a track surface, just softer.”

The rubber material is considerably more expensive. To use it exclusively on the pre-K playground, which is 1,530 square feet would be $20,000 to $25,000. For the K-2 playground, which is 8,550 square feet, the cost would be about $110,000.

Rubber has an advantage from a maintenance perspective. It has a lifespan of about 20 years with periodic power washing. It also comes in a number of colors and designs may be painted on it. Wood, on the other hand, must be replenished regularly to maintain its safety value. Adding equipment to a playground with a rubber surface is expensive because the surface has to be ripped up for installation. Wood chips merely need to be moved out of the way.

Wallace pointed out the two surface materials — wood and rubber — may be used in combination with one another. There is no safety advantage of one material over the other as long as they are applied and maintained properly.

“In the last few years the market has been shifting away from post and deck systems,” Wallace said of equipment choices. “Children seem to be more receptive to contemporary systems. We’ve been going more toward arched systems with hanging nets and play components off the arches.”

Committee member Mandi Schmauch pointed out there are four to five classes — totaling 80 to 100 children — outside for recess at any one time and was concerned about the amount of space available. School Superintendent Kevin Smith acknowledged that, but added some of the children opt to play on the adjacent hardtop surface where there are basketball hoops.

Schmauch also added children from town use the playgrounds after school and on weekends. She said she saw them more as town playgrounds than simply school playgrounds.

“I think we should maximize them as much as possible,” she said.

Committee member Dick Dubow agreed. “Let’s do the playground right,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be grand, but it has to be right.”

During the early design phase of the renovation, the playground budget was $295,000. Of that, $100,000 was taken out during the value-engineering phase to try and keep costs down, when the outcome of the bidding process was unknown. But many of those bids have come in under-budget.

While they did not make a formal motion, the committee members were comfortable with upping the budget to $295,000. Committee member Gretchen Jeanes will lead a subcommittee that will meet with teachers, administrators, and parents to look at possible designs. They will then meet with Wallace, who is with O’Brien & Sons of Middlebury, Conn.

Blades, whose firm is Blades & Goven of Fairfield, said for the playgrounds to be ready in September equipment needs to be ordered by Aug. 1, but any plans must also be submitted to the state for approval, which can be a lengthy process.

The committee will meet again Thursday, June 9, at 5 p.m. in the Wilton High School Library mezzanine.