By Joan Goodchild, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – The empty area that once held a playground at the Paton Elementary School in Shrewsbury is now full again and will soon be filled with children swinging, climbing and having fun.
It was a little more than a year ago, in April 2011, when school officials learned the old playground structure, which included swings, slides and climbing areas, had to be taken down. A safety inspection revealed it was no longer secure for students to use. The structure was 15 years old, which is the typical lifespan of playground equipment.
Melissa Wensky is a member of Paton's PTO.
“That was a horrible day, and kind of surprising,” recalled Wensky, who has had two children attend Paton and a daughter still in the school. “We said it would easily be three or four years to raise the money for a new one. I didn's think my daughter would see it during her time there.”
Students spent the 2011-2012 school year playing on the pavement outside and using equipment like balls, hula hoops, bubbles, jump ropes, and their imaginations while the PTO began a fundraising drive to raise the necessary funds to build a new one.
Thanks to contributions from parents, the community, and many corporate donors who made large donations, including Price Chopper, Dunkin’ Donuts and Central One Federal Credit Union, the school was able to purchase the $70,000 structure much sooner than anticipated.
“It was amazing to see how many people rallied to help out,” Wensky said. “Many people bought a brick for the playground and we raised money that way. Students collected money with lemonade stands, by collecting spare change and donating it. Everyone really pitched in.”
The PTO decided to build the structure “in house” and asked the community to volunteer to work on it because the cost of having a professional installation would have almost doubled the price.
Almost 100 people turned up June 23 to erect the structure. Wensky said the folks who volunteered ranged from parents, to community members, to Paton alum who just wanted to help out.
“People were showing up saying “I feel so bad. What can I do to help?”” said Wensky. “I think the fact that it came together so quickly speaks volumes about where we live.”
a safety inspection still needs to be conducted before the playground can open to the community, but Wensky said she expects it will happen soon and children in the area should be able to use the playground within a few weeks. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned for September.