WESTBOROUGH – Armstrong Elementary School students will soon be playing on a replaced playground.
This is after Westborough Town Meeting, on Saturday, approved transferring $350,000 from free cash to replace the playground.
A request for repairs to the playground was previously brought forward during the October 2019 Town Meeting. That failed to pass the required two thirds vote by one vote, though, Superintendent Amber Bock said.
“It’s absolutely ludicrous not to be fixing this playground,” said resident Paul George during discussion.
According to Bock, the project will repair and add equipment to the Armstrong playground.
A “vast majority” of the funds will specifically be used to establish a safe and accessible play surface, Bock said.
“It’s degraded and rusted out in areas that provide a safety issue,” Bock said. “And there’s very limited equipment.”
The Armstrong playground lacks ADA accessibility and is the only one in town that doesn’t have a separate kindergarten play area, she said.
Bock showed pictures of the playground during Town Meeting. One of the pictures showed deteriorating platforms. “We try to file these down,” Bock said of the damaged surfaces.
“We try to cover them. We close them off at different times. This is really not where small children should be playing.”
Town Meeting approval means that drainage issues will be fixed at the playground. The play space will be leveled and expanded, and mulch issues will be eliminated, Bock said.
With voters’ approval, the district will update its assessment, review plans, assess its equipment and work with the school PGA and staff to finalize plans.
Some residents expressed concerns about the price tag for the project.
“This is an awful lot of money at a time when it’s difficult for people,” said resident Jim Crowley.
Resident Carolyn Spring recalled that, when her children were in school, the town didn’t pay for a kindergarten playground at Fales.
“Were any private funding sources looked at for the playground?” she asked.
Bock responded that the district leverages a “good amount” of fundraising and opportunities for offsets when it can.
She gave examples of some of the donations that the district is anticipating for the project, which may be in the range of $30,000.
She anticipated that there would be contributions from Westborough Community Education to close any gaps.
Spring called residents to vote the article down, asking that Bock return in the fall when she could president the amount of anticipated donations. Spring also suggested that money could come from federal American Rescue Plan Act funds.
However, other residents advocated for the project, with one parent calling it an “investment in our children.”
Select Board member Shelby Marshall noted that it was used by many and not just Armstrong students.
Costs aren’t going down, Marshall said.
Resident Stephanie Graham, who has four children that go to Armstrong, advocated for the article.
“This was needed at the 2019 meeting that we had,” Graham said.
She talked about some of the issues with the playground, including standing water that lingers even times when it has not recently rained or snowed.
George said there was a possibility for someone to sue the town “because we neglected to fix what should have been fixed, allowing little kids to play in a dangerous situation.”
“It’s far more prudent to fix it than pay for it four times over if something bad happens,” George said.
The article did then pass with sufficient votes.