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Officials seek grant funding for new playground


Staff Writer

TURNERS FALLS — In preparation for the coming grant cycle, Hillcrest Elementary School hosted a public outreach meeting on Tuesday to discuss designs for a prospective new playground.

The lightly attended meeting was led by Montague Assistant Town Administrator Walter Ramsey, Franklin County Regional Housing & Redevelopment Authority Community Development Director Brian McHugh, Gill-Montague Regional School District Superintendent Brian Beck and Berkshire Design Group Landscape Designer Doug Serrill. Designs presented by Serrill portrayed an accessible and modern community playground that would nurture sensorimotor development in children. Designs must be submitted for grant consideration by March 2023.

Hillcrest Elementary School Principal Sarah Burstein said the idea of constructing a new playground has been talked about for “several years now.” She recalled discussions began around 2018 upon observation of the existing playground’s deteriorating condition.

“I’m sure anyone who has wandered through our playground knows it’s really aging and needs some significant development,” she said.

Serrill observed that existing structures are not only outdated and decrepit, but restricted as to how they service those who play. Issues he cited ranged from handicap inaccessibility to limitations in equipment variety.

“There’s a whole wide range of styles of play that children and adults need for our social, emotional and physical well-being,” Serrill argued.

The proposed playground, which received a cost estimate of $431,582 in March, features equipment fabricated by Landscape Structures Inc. Everything would be “easy to construct” and “really wellmade,” according to Serrill. Some play equipment featured includes rocks for climbing, balance-challenging walkways, squiggly slides, ladders and brain-stimulating handson installations. In addition, the playground would include new gathering spaces, such as a clubhouse for “impromptu gathering” and a woodchipped courtyard surrounded by boulders that would serve as both an outdoor classroom and as a place for “passive or imaginative play.” Notably,


Berkshire Design Group Landscape Designer Doug Serrill presents designs for a prospective new playground at Hillcrest Elementary School on Tuesday.


Designs for a prospective new playground at Hillcrest Elementary School in Turners Falls.



some aspects of the current playground, such as a swing set and a shed, would stay.

If constructed, the playground would benefit not only the school community, but the neighborhood more broadly, officials said. This distinction is necessary for the project to qualify for a Community Development Block Grant, Ramsey explained. According to McHugh, if the grant is awarded, construction would likely begin in summer 2024.

The playground’s potential for use independent from the school also means that the project would be largely unimpeded by the potential eventual demolition of the Hillcrest school building, Ramsey added. Joanne Blier, Gill-Montague Regional School District’s director of business and operations, previously framed the prospect of demolition as a matter of financial and infrastructural practicality, noting that the Massachusetts School Building Authority estimated the building’s capital repairs to cost $6.86 million. This estimate, she said, is “a huge amount of money to put into two of our older buildings that are overcrowded” and lack certain school needs.

The district is preparing to send a statement of interest as part of the process to pursue funding for a new school from the building authority. Blier said the new facility, estimated to cost $55 million, would be constructed alongside the current Sheffield Elementary School and classes would be moved out of the older Hillcrest Elementary School.

“We don’t know what the town will ultimately do with the building,” said Beck, adding that he has told the Selectboard of the district’s intentions to explore options. Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or j m e n d o z a @recorder.c o m .

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