The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 8, 2007


Castle playground changes as it ages

Is the Carlisle School's Castle playground showing its age? Constructed with volunteer labor in 1988 (see "Community spirit raised Carlisle Castle," page 1), the sprawling wooden structure built under the trees beside the Spalding Building is enjoyed by children both during and after school. Not surprisingly, several things have changed over the two decades the playground has been in use: various pieces of the equipment have broken, other sections have been modified to improve safety, the playground is no longer available for use during school by the youngest and oldest children, the hours of operation have been reduced, and adult supervision has increased.

Carlisle School Buildings and Grounds Supervisor David Flannery said, "The southern yellow pine in a New England climate has done well." However, he noted, "It is becoming quite a challenge as it reaches the end of its useful life.

"Over the years we have removed a number of the play 'events,' some because of safety issues, like the tire swing," Flannery said, explaining, "Some of the 'events' broke and it was decided not to replace them."

Very few accidents have been reported but a few stand out: In April 1999 it was reported in the Mosquito Police Log that a child fell at the Castle and briefly lost consciousness.

Community members have helped maintain the facility. For instance, in October 1999, Laurie Diercks asked volunteers to bring "shovels, rakes, wheelbarrows and buckets" to the Castle to spread the huge mounds of wood chips for the fifth annual Concord-Carlisle Community Chest Day of Caring.

The Castle was closed in the fall of 2000 for lengthy upgrades. Though the structure met all safety requirements when it was built, upgrades were made to meet current codes. According to the November 10, 2000 Mosquito, changes were being made "upon the recommendation of the school's insurer, as well as their safety consultant." Improvements included removing some equipment and putting in additional wooden walls. Equipment that was removed, such as ladders and the swinging platform, was not replaced, and no new features were added.

Originally open to all children during recess, signs were later added noting that the playground was reserved for children aged six to 12.

Sometimes a boat, sometimes a spaceship, this free-standing piece was built to rock as passengers shifted their weight. The steering wheel is now missing. (Photo by Cynthia Sorn)

Structure still sound

"The old Castle still has much of its character but has lost many of the things kids think are fun and adults think are unsafe," said Flannery. "We will be adding to the safety ground cover this summer and making repairs to the wooden structure as necessary. The structure is sound."

He said the Castle is maintained with an annual coat of sealer, which is strongly recommended by Leathers and Associates, the Ithaca, New York, firm that designed and supervised the construction of the playground two decades ago.

Limited availability

The Castle is not used during winter when the wood may be icy, and is sometimes closed at other times of the year. "Yes, unfortunately, we do sometimes close it when we do not have three staff/volunteers to supervise it," explained Elementary Principal Patrice Hurley in an e-mail. "Today was a case in point. We try not to, as the children love to use it, but proper supervision is a safety issue."

Carlisle School Association volunteer coordinator Julia Krapf explained that parent volunteers make up the majority of supervisors at recess. There are two or three Carlisle School staff members supervising both recess and the lunch room, she explained, but in order to open the Castle three extra adults must be assigned just to the Castle. According to parents and children, in the Castle's early years there were fewer closures and less adult supervision.

Even when the Castle is open, explained Hurley, there is one bridge that is off limits and has been blocked off with boards, "due to concerns about age of wood and potential for injury if it gave out over an open, fairly high area." She explained that each spring the Castle is inspected and reinforced as needed before children are allowed to play on it.

What next?

When contacted recently, Leathers representative Barb Dominie said that with proper maintenance, the playgrounds could last over 25 years. Communities can hire the firm to inspect old playgrounds such as the Castle and recommend refurbishments. "Safety and accessibility guidelines have changed," she said. Upgrades include plastic tube slides, slanted ladders, and rope nets. Additional structures can be added using "plastic" wood, which can be also be used to replace sections of old wood.

Darlene Grove (Robertson), who was the General Coordinator for the Carlisle Castle construction project, was asked what action she would want to take on the Castle today. "Well, if it is still 75-80% usable as it is, and if the school children still enjoy playing on it, I would encourage the town or school to rally to raise funds to replace those things that have been broken and even enhance it with new things. I have always felt that people will support what they believe in, and if they are given a chance to be heard, you can count on them for support. Those of us who worked and watched it come together — board by board — will never forget the thrill and satisfaction of seeing it completed."

"The kids have a lot of fun on the Castle," said Krapf. "The question is keeping it safe going into the future."

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito