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Bethlehem Elementary celebrates new community-built playground

Bethlehem Elementary students open their new playground, which was designed to emphasize creativity, climbing, and independent play, built by citizens in a one-day blitz, and completed in one year. (Photo by Justin Roshak) (click for larger version)
October 10, 2018
BETHLEHEM — Students, parents, teachers, friends and family gathered last Monday to cut the ribbon on Bethlehem's new community playground, which cost about $100,000, and went from idea to completion in just over one year.

$50,000 was voted by the taxpayers in last year's town warrant, a considerable sum in a community with some of the highest taxes, and most contentious politics, in the area. The community spirit, and financial commitment, made the difference between a one year project and a multi-year saga.

"If they hadn't done that, we'd only be at phase one of the project," explained Bethlehem Elementary School Principal Shelli Roberts, who expressed particular appreciation for the taxpayers' contribution.

The old playground's newest elements dated from the 90's, she added, so a rebuild was long overdue. She expressed hope that it would serve as a resource for the whole community, both in and after school hours.

Major financial contributions were also made by Casella Waste Management, who matched $15,000, and the Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund, which provided the last $11,000 to top the project off. Other donors in excess of $5,000 include the Bethlehem Elementary Parent-Teacher Organization, Tender Corporation, and the Raichle family.

"The alumni association was a big art of kicking us off," Roberts said.

While the new playground is open for business, the project is not done—a rock climbing wall is planned, and expected to cost between $5,000 and $8,000, according to estimates by various members of the building committee, who also plan an outdoor class space and gazebo, and a running track.

"It's a really good resource overall for Bethlehem," said Joanna Boisseau, a parent of a first and third grader, who served on the building committee.

"It was literally just a community build," she explained—main construction was completed in one day, almost entirely by citizens, with oversight from an employee of a construction firm. Teachers, parents, alum parents, and others all chipped in.

"It was crazy," said Boisseau, who expressed amazement at the scale of construction that untrained volunteers achieved. "I was like, Oh my God, they're letting us do this, but it just happened."

They raised and leveled one post at a time, each one sunk into several feet of mulch. The main build too one long day, with four days of smaller tasks—mulching, cement, and so on.

"It was moms, teachers, grandparents, teacher's in-laws coming in," Boisseau added.

"Kids' ability to climb, and move, is going to help them overall in their health and wellness," said Kristen Bruno, a physical education teacher and member of the building committee.

She said that elements which focus on balance and upper body strength were key, and while she doesn't use playgrounds for her classes much, it was an essential resource.

Bruno suggested, perhaps half-seriously, that she could run a spartan "beast race" and obstacle course through the new playground.

Citizens can purchase pies, baked by local organizers, until the 15th of October, with all proceeds to the rock wall fund. A bingo night, with thousands in prizes, will be held Nov. 14. Citizens should also keep watch for a spring fun run and one-mile color blast, early next year.

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