The OCSD board voted yes on a budget transfer of $141,000 to pay for the equipment in January, said Dana Geraci, treasurer of the Home and School Association and a playground committee chair. She said the move has provided the HSA with the necessary funding to finally move forward with the project.
According to Geraci, Minetto Elementary is known as the primary inclusion school within the district. She said, “10% of our student body is considered inclusion, therefore we need a playground that will accommodate every child, not just 90%.”
Accessible and inclusive playground equipment costs more than traditional playground equipment, Geraci said. “The new playground is expected to cost around $260,000, before installation,” she said.
“Parents started fundraising before 2010, knowing that the old playground wouldn’t last forever,” said Geraci. “Historically, it was the responsibility of the Home and School Association to fund these playgrounds,” she said. Geraci stated that the five pieces of equipment there now are because of these early fundraising efforts.
“Our old playground was built in 1994,” Geraci said. It was torn down in 2019 after no longer meeting the New York State Department of Health playground safety standards. “This left a large gap in the students’ outdoor play area, and we realized we needed to kick our fundraising into high gear,” said Geraci.
Jennifer Sullivan, principal of Minetto Elementary School, believes that “The way it impacted kids the most is that it doesn’t provide them a place to climb, explore, and learn together with their peers.” “The small pieces we have, although they are very fun, they don’t allow a lot of kids to play on them together like a playground does,” she said.
Sullivan gives credit to the parents and teachers in the home and school association for making the purchase possible. She said that “the tireless efforts that they’ve done for the past four years allowed them to raise $116,000 just on their own. This was through COVID, the school closures, all of that. It was a lot of work. So, when the January decision happened, it was just awesome.”
“I’m so appreciative of all the hard work our faculty, our Minetto parents, and our community have done to raise funds for the playground, and I’m super thankful to the board of education for transferring the funds that made it possible to order the equipment,” said Sullivan.
“The school district itself is very equitable in all the different things they provide for the different buildings, no matter if they are elementary, middle school, or high school,” said Sullivan. “I feel we were always a piece of that. Raising money for the playground in itself was really the biggest difference because we are not in the confines of the city,” said Sullivan. The other schools are “eligible for city grants and city funds” that Minetto is not, she elaborated.
Geraci said that the school district should continue to include playground funding in their budget. “The cost of playgrounds has increased drastically over the years. It’s too much for one small parent group to tackle on its own,” she said.
Although the funds needed for the playground equipment have been raised, the HSA continues to fundraise for the installation and site preparation costs. “This month, Stewart’s Shops in Minetto will be hosting a matching fundraiser to benefit the playground,” Geraci said. “From May 15-18, donations will be collected at the register and matched by Stewart’s up to $5,000,” she said.
“The first thing that will have to happen is the grading of the ground,” said Sullivan. “Once the equipment is here, the ground has to be prepared.” The HSA will work directly with the playground supply company for this, said Sullivan.
Geraci said the equipment supply company, Denzak Recreational Design, is aiming at an arrival date in September, which would push installation out to the summer of 2024. However, she said “The equipment company advised us to check back in a month, they said they do receive arrival dates sooner than expected.”
When asked if there was a way to speed up the process, both Geraci and Sullivan agreed that it is now out of their hands as the equipment has been ordered. “Unfortunately, we are at the mercy of the playground equipment supply chains,” said Geraci. “When it is shipped, we get it,” she said.
“I’m really excited to have a place for all of our kids to play,” said Sullivan. “Every kid is going to be able to play on this playground. That has been our motto, ‘a place where every body can play,’” she said.