Second phase of Melrose playground is ready for returning kids

The playground at Melrose School, above and left, after the second phase was completed in June. A separate, smaller playground for younger students will be constructed when enough money is raised.

The playground at Melrose School, above and left, after the second phase was completed in June. A separate, smaller playground for younger students will be constructed when enough money is raised.

When students return to the local elementary school in September, they will be greeted with a new piece of equipment on the playground.

The second phase of the Melrose School playground was installed in June, with slides and swing sets, to replace the structure that has been on the grounds since the building opened in 1991. The first two phases of the playground are intended for children in Melrose’s upper grades, while replacement of the separate playground for younger students will occur in the third phase. Christina Smith, a parent who serves on playground committee, said the second phase added climbing elements to the main structure installed in April 2020.

“We added pieces to the big structures,” she said. “They’ll have the monkey bars, climbing bars, and connecting bridges.”

Plans to rebuild the playground began in 2018 because the age and condition of the equipment made it difficult for the custodial staff to maintain.

“Many things were at the point where they needed to be removed, not replaced,” Smith said. “It became apparent we needed to upgrade to newer, safer equipment.”


A committee of parents and faculty was established, and after spending 2019 designing plans and raising money, the first phase came to life just as the coronavirus struck in March 2020. While the first phase was installed as planned, the coronavirus pandemic forced a delay of the second phase.

Since its installation, Melrose principal Beth Roman said it has become “a hub of communication,” where children can socialize outside the classroom. Students in the lower three grades have two recesses daily, while third- and fourth-graders have one.

“We use it in so many different ways,” Roman said. “In Jamestown, one of the big focuses is on outdoor education and how we can really provide that for our kids. This playground is really the hub of that.”

Smith said the decision to work in phases was because of the cost, and up until now, the project has been financed entirely through fundraising.

“It was decided early on that it wouldn’t be in the school budget,” she said. “The maintenance is done within the school budget, and the previous playground was maintained by the budget, but the new equipment will all be funded outside.”

Raising the stakes

Money has been raised through golf tournaments, raffles, lemonade stands, and clothing drives. Students also donated the proceeds from their penny carnival toward the playground, and a Venmo account has been established so donations can be directly deposited. Donors also can purchase bricks for a walkway that will be installed.

Materials cost $60,000 for the first two phases. The third and final phase will cost $65,000, and the group has a goal to raise $50,000. Smith said the plan is for the remaining $15,000 to be supplemented through grants.

The installation of the playground was completed by the public works department and the district’s maintenance staff so there was no cost for the labor.

“That’s really what made this project possible,” Smith said. “If we didn’t have that ability in-house, I think we wouldn’t have phase one installed yet.”

The new playground uses the entire existing footprint of the old equipment. Equipment that has not reached the end of its useful life, such as a climbing structure, funnel ball, basketball hoops, and the swing set, will remain, and the new equipment was designed around those structures. The woodchip surfaces and basketball blacktop also are familiar leftovers.

Because the project was done in phases, portions of the original equipment remained intact while the new equipment was installed so the students did not go without a playground during construction. The playground for early-childhood students has been untouched until the final phase can commence.

The playground was designed by M.E. O’Brien and Sons Inc., of Massachusetts, and manufactured by Landscape Structures in Minnesota. These are the same two firms that created the equipment for the community playground that opened adjacent to the North Road library in 2018. The committee was briefed what equipment lasts the longest, is easiest to maintain, and encourages play.

“As much as learning happens at school, it happens on the playground,” Smith said. “There’s really all sorts of meeting spaces and climbers and activities. Places kids can play alone and in groups.”

Size matters

The main structure is an outdoor playset with more than one way to access it, including stairs and climbers, which allows teachers to traverse the structure. Smith said the biggest difference between the structures for the older and younger kids is the height. The one already installed is 4-6 feet off the ground, while the proposed structure for younger students will be 2-4 feet from the ground. Aside from the height, both sets of equipment are similar, and younger children can play on the equipment intended for the older students. The space underneath the structure is designed as meeting spots to encourage children to use their imaginations.

“The preschool is designed around being able to have pretend lemonade stands and bakeries and things like that,” Smith said.

According to Roman, the older students already have started to use their imaginations with their new equipment.

“They love it,” Roman said. “They create their own games on it. You can walk outside any time and they’ve created something totally different with all of them together.”

The children were involved in selecting the equipment for the playground. Former principal Carrie Werner worked with the teachers to ask the students what they wanted. The children drew pictures and were polled during lunch to determine the most popular equipment.

There were members of the Melrose playground committee, including Smith, who also served on the committee involved with planning the community playground. This helped members be mindful to include equipment that is different from what already was installed at the corner of North Road and Valley Street.

“We were part of the process of making sure that we offered things that were great for schools, and also didn’t duplicate as much as what was in the town playground,” she said. “The community playground is designed for a much older population.”

Smith said Werner, who is her sister, has been kept in the loop about the building of the new playground, which was started while she was still the principal of Melrose.

“She visits us in the summer, so we came and showed her the progress,” Smith said. “She’s excited. She wants to see it done.”

The committee is planning more fundraisers through 2022 to finance the final phase. The members also are seeking grants from the local PTO, the Jamestown Education Foundation, the Rhode Island Foundation, and the Van Beuren Charitable Foundation.

“The number is big for a small community, and we already are so grateful for what’s been donated,” Smith said.