Carlisle playgrounds epitomize community spirit

by Karina Coombs

Each of Carlisle’s playgrounds owe much of their existence to the dedicated town employees and community volunteers who sought to improve the town’s quality of life in one simple way: providing a play space for its youngest citizens.

Carlisle Castle playground

Nowhere is this more evident than the Castle playground at the Carlisle School. Born out of a small group of parents’ desire to build a new playground for the school, it blossomed into a community event led by former resident Darlene Robertson. (See “Community spirit raised Carlisle Castle 20 years ago,” June 8, 2007.)

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The popular Castle playground suspension bridge was repaired by Andrew Gorecki and a group of roughly 20 volunteers.
(Photo by Karina Coombs)

Over a five-day period in 1988, hundreds of volunteers including 40 Army Reservists from Fort Devens and 50 Navy Reserve Seabees (a Construction Battalion) worked to build the Castle, designed by Robert Leathers of Leathers and Associates, a nationally renowned playground designer and architect. “There are few wooden [Leathers Playgrounds] left,” said Facilities Manager David Flannery, noting that their popularity in the 1980s and ’90s would draw families to Carlisle from surrounding towns.

The playground has been closed to students during school hours in recent years out of safety and supervision concerns, but continues to be well used after school and on weekends.

Maintenance

Flannery explained that the structure is made of pressure-treated southern yellow pine, but was not treated with chromated copper arsenate, a common wood preservative used before 2003 when it became a health concern. “Twenty-five years for [this type of wood] in New England is good.” He also credits the structure’s wooded location for making it last as long as it has and making it that much more unique; most Leather Playgrounds were designed for clear, open spaces.

During the playground’s first ten years there was a maintenance budget and parent volunteers helping to keep it well maintained, but over time the number of volunteers slowed and maintenance became more of an issue. Some play features were eventually removed because they were either in disrepair or associated with injuries. Flannery continues to have an arborist come in every three to five years to cut dead branches in the area, and he replaces ground covering as needed. “If the community is committed to maintain it, there’s a lot to be done,” he said. “[The Castle] is very unique. It has brought a lot of fun and joy to kids over the years and you can’t discount that no matter what its future might be.”

Eagle Scout service project

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Andrew Gorecki helped fix up the
Castle playground as part of his
Eagle Scout project.
(Photo by Karina Coombs)

Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS) senior Andrew Gorecki just completed some much-needed repairs that Flannery feels make the 26-year-old structure safe. As a service project to earn the rank of Eagle Scout, and with permission from the Carlisle School Committee, Gorecki and a varying rotation of family members, friends and troop members have spent the last few weekends working on the site.

Using the ground maintenance fund, Flannery purchased 30 gallons of environmentally friendly sealant for Gorecki, who then worked with volunteers to pressure wash and seal all surfaces. The popular suspension bridge was fixed along with some other play features during the 100 or so hours Gorecki estimates he spent on the project. “I didn’t want to see it torn down,” he said, explaining he had a lot of good memories of the Castle. With the completion of his service project, Gorecki’s next step is to prepare for an Eagle Scout board of review in the next month.

The Castle’s future

There are no immediate plans or funding for any major change to the Castle playground, according to School Business Manager Susan Pray, who noted that the structure was originally built using donated funds.

At a recent training session for parent volunteers, Elementary Principal Dennet Sidell floated a well-received idea: giving the various grades an opportunity to use the playground during a special Castle Day. Sidell emphasized, however, that the play structures would need to be safe and additional parent volunteers present in order for the idea to take shape.

Diment Toddler Park

According to the 2010 US Census there are nearly 200 children under the age of 5 in Carlisle, served by the Diment toddler playground. Located near Spalding Field on Church Street, Diment was created in 1983 as a pocket park or mini-park for children and was named for Mary and Gordon Diment in recognition of their service to the town.

Over the years Diment would succumb to neglect and in 1998 the Carlisle Parents Connection, recognizing there was a need for a toddler playground in town set their sights on its renovation. Under the leadership of member Sharyl Stropkay, the group raised $27,000 for new equipment that was installed with the help of volunteers and members of the DPW, including DPW Superintendent Gary Davis. The park was rededicated Diment Toddler Park in 1999 and in 2000 the town voted to accept the park as an asset, with Recreation Commission (RecCom) taking responsibility for its maintenance.

Maintenance

While RecCom oversees the playground, the Carlisle Parents Connection continues to play a key role in keeping it well maintained, often funding some items at their own expense. In 2011 the group organized a clean up day with members and volunteers helping to install additional ground covering provided by the town. The group also routinely provides sand and toys for the sandbox and holds a number of annual events at the park for its young members.

Current issues

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Richard Sibley (on right) and his son James work on footings for the play structure being installed at the Banta-Davis Land.
(Photo by Karina Coombs)

At its September 4 meeting, RecCom Chair Rick Amodei explained that the wooden fencing at Diment was damaged and needed replacement. Amodei had a quote for $3,400 for a green chain link fence, but a repair vote was suspended to allow for a wood fence quote. Amodei explained that RecCom’s FY14 budget includes funds for fence repair, as well as playground-grade mulch.

Work at Diment that was to have been completed over the summer is still incomplete. Reached for comment, Amodei explained that he had been trying to arrange for a bulk shipment of materials for both Diment and the new play structure being installed at Banta-Davis, but the latter had installation delays.

Amodei also noted that Diment might require Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) modifications going forward. “ADA is an issue we are trying to get our arms around,” explained Amodei. “There will likely be a recreation facilities study funded either this year or next that will, among other things, clearly address ADA requirements for all our recreation facilities.”

New Banta-Davis playground

Another playground taking shape is at Banta-Davis. The project is using a retired structure from the Carlisle School and is heavily dependent on adult volunteers like Scout Leader Richard Sibley. Sibley first became aware of the play structure when he saw it lying in the woods along School Street during the most recent school construction project. He contacted then-Superintendent Joyce Mehaffey to ask about the status of the equipment and was told it had been given to RecCom.

Amodei had already identified a location for the structure at Banta-Davis, but needed volunteers to do the work. “This is my community,” said Sibley, and volunteered to help with his Boy Scout troop. The Banta-Davis site made sense to Sibley. With families visiting the fields for athletic events each weekend, he was aware that kids did not have anything to play on and were instead using the Rory Bentley Fitness course as a playground.

Volunteer effort

The DPW delivered the old equipment to Banta-Davis and also dug the holes for the structure’s footing before Sibley and his troop began work on the site. RecCom also had CCHS students coming over to help. Sibley said that a large part of the construction challenge was figuring out how to put together a complex play structure using only an overhead schematic of a finished product. Sibley explained that at some point the Mexico Forge structure that had been replaced by the Castle in 1988 also showed up; they are using it for spare parts.

Trying to find adult volunteers for the heavy lifting requirements of the project and organizing schedules, particularly over the summer, has delayed the project, but progress is being made. On October 4, Sibley and his son James began pouring the new concrete footings for the structure, which is now taking on an identifiable shape. “There’s been visual progress this week,” said Sibley.

While Sibley is making the installation a Boy Scout project, he is also encouraging 8th graders to help out as part of their community service requirements and trying to ensure the kids do as much age-appropriate work as they can. Sibley is still looking for six adult volunteers to help raise the 200-pound play structure cap while others bolt it in place. When the project is complete, RecCom will deliver playground-grade ground covering to the site. “There is no shortage of needs for volunteers. This is completely a volunteer effort,” said Sibley. Interested volunteers can contact Amodei or Sibley. ∆