SWANTON — The village board’s Monday night meeting was child’s play, or rather, all about child’s play.
Debbie Winters and Franklin Northwest Supervisory Union (FNWSU) Superintendent Win Goodrich presented to the village trustees a proposal to upgrade, repair and renovate the Mary S. Babcock Elementary School playground on Fourth Street.
The proposal comes with an estimated $200,000 cost, although Winters said the cost estimate isn’t final, and still waiting on professional calculations.
Much of the playground’s equipment is decades old, like one of its two swing sets.
Winters said the second swing set doesn’t even have a set of swings, just an aged metal frame, standing on the playground.
The playground itself has become impractical.
The amount of pavement, which Winters said is already a concern for child safety, is causing poor drainage.
That, in turn, causes widespread icing. Winters said children were forbidden from the playground during several relatively beautiful days this winter due to the icy condition of the playground pavement.
The aging equipment itself causes concerns, of course.
Goodrich said the playground was subjected to a safety audit a few years ago in which the auditors took issue with safety hazards posed by the equipment’s obsolete design — for example, exposed bolts on the swing sets.
Insurance companies also now require specific “fall zones” around swing sets, Goodrich said, just one example of safety standards the playground in its current state cannot meet.
“It’s not just getting new equipment, it’s having to meet the safety standards,” he told the board.
Winters said the playground — emphasis on “ground” — itself could also be upgraded by way of “softening”: adding hills and stumps, natural play objects for children.
Winters said Cross Consulting Engineers, a St. Albans-based firm, is working on a site plan for the project.
It’s estimated budget breaks down as follows: $20,000 in prior school funds, $40,000 in private foundation grants — Winters said the project has already received $10,000 from the John LeClair Foundation — $50,000 in public and state grants, $20,000 in fundraising and $70,000 in donations.
The central idea, Winters said, is to get the broader Swanton community involved.
One idea to do so at this early stage is donor recognition areas on the playground. Those who donate to the project might be recognized on a brick on the playground, for example. Village President Neal Speer suggested families of veterans could purchase bricks to honor the vets.
The goal is to install the new equipment in summer 2019.
Winters said Cross Consulting should complete its site plan, for more concrete budgeting, late this month, or by early May. Then the community campaign would kick off in May or June.
Goodrich said the project needs village officials’ support more than village money, for example, the use of the village’s heavy machinery come installation time.
Winters pitched the value of a well-maintained playground.
She said an up-to-date playground increases the value of its surrounding housing, that it’s an economic development driver that increases a community’s tax base.
Trustee Eugene LaBombard pointed out the playground’s proximity to the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail. Winters said Swanton residents are lucky to have a uniquely “tight, walkable village center.”
Trustee Adam Paxman said the project ties into recently installed crosswalks and similar walkability initiates spearheaded downtown by Village Manager Reg Beliveau Jr.
At the end of her presentation, Winters said the trustees needed to “embrace” the project for it to move forward.
“Consider it embraced,” Paxman said. He called the project a “great initiative to grow the community.”
“I don’t see how we could not do that,” trustee Chris Leach said.
“I don’t think you’ll have any trouble getting support for this,” Speer told Winters.
Speer said he remembered installing the school’s first playground.
“If I can remember it, it does need to be updated,” Speer said.
Winters said the project could be the latest piece of an ongoing community movement to revitalize Swanton, a movement that began with the Swanton Enhancement Project’s inception in 2013.
“Things are happening, and people are getting excited,” Winters said. “If we can just keep that momentum going with a project here, a project there…”
Later in the meeting, Leach said he wondered if the board should “up the ante” in creating rec opportunities for older kids as well.
Beliveau told him the village management already plans to apply for an unspecified $5,000 grant to do just that.
The village board next meets April 23, 7 p.m. in the Swanton Village Municipal Complex. As ever, anyone is welcome.