1. Why was the tower structure taken down by city officials?
Wood play structures have a 20-year lifespan. The tower was 20 years old and showing its age. The Newton Parks and Recreation Department had notified us in 2013 that we should start planning for its replacement because many wood beams were failing and a platform had separated from its supports. The structure, including the monkey bars, had become unsafe, so Parks and Recreation took it down.
2. Why are the parents responsible for fixing the playground? Isn’t it a public school?
Newton Public Schools are responsible for school building facilities, but the City of Newton has assigned responsibility for playgrounds to the school PTO’s. Over the past several decades, as Newton cut its spending for school playgrounds more and more, parents had made up the difference. Eventually, the City of Newton eliminated spending on playgrounds. The Bowen PTO continues to believe that this duty should be borne by the whole community, but unfortunately, we can’t wait for those changes. In the short-term, we need to come together to renovate Bowen’s playground, and in the long-term, we will advocate for change in Newton. Bowen has been the recipient of grants from the City of Newton in previous years but those funds cannot be spent on play equipment or surfacing.
We are happy to report that the City of Newton has been a partner in our playground campaign. The city paid for paving the two new basketball courts; the irrigation, soil preparation, and grass sod; new wood chips; and the removal of the old tower structure.
3. What do other Newton schools and schools in neighboring towns spend on playgrounds?
We recognize that $100,000 for a new play structure (and $200,000 for the entire playground campaign) is a large investment for the community. However, the cost of large playground structures start at $100,000, when the costs of delivery, site preparation, and installation are included. The total of $200,000 is comparable to other Newton schools that have recently built or are about to build playgrounds, and Bowen is larger than almost all of those schools (Bowen was the largest elementary school in Newton in 2013-14 with 504 students). Costs for these structures range from $125,000 to $300,000+ for schools serving an average of 300-450 students. Fortunately, we still have the wood bridge-and-slide structure, the new disc swings, and the spider web structure. The playground committee believes that a $100,000 budget is sufficient for an appropriate structure in this space. We are hoping to plan a “community build” by parent-volunteers with the support of a professional project manager, and this effort would keep our costs down.
4. Shouldn’t we be raising money for more essential things like teacher salaries or modular classrooms given the City’s tight school budget?
The Newton Public Schools Elementary Equity Policy caps the amount of privately raised money that can be spent by each school in a given year to ensure “equity” across all the schools. The policy also forbids private spending on certain expense categories, including staff, professional development and core curricula. Technology is now more restricted under the Equity Policy. Playgrounds are the only major categories that are not currently restricted by this Equity Policy.
5. If we are raising all this money for the playground, will we have any left over for technology? If not, when can we expect another fundraising campaign for technology?
Funding our growing technology needs is a critical focus of our PTO and every other PTO in the City of Newton. The previous PTO raised a substantial amount of money for technology, and the current PTO has concluded that Bowen’s current technology are sufficient for the school’s most essential needs. The playground is a bigger priority for 2013-2015. Newton Public Schools has assured us that they are committing more public resources to school technology over the next few years. We can re-examine Bowen’s technology needs in 2015-2016 and decide if we need a technology campaign in the near future.
6. When will the playground reconstruction take place?
Our plan has three phases. Phase 1: two new basketball courts, irrigation and sod, and the double disc swings has been completed. Phase 2: a new playstructure will hopefully be installed in the Spring or Summer of 2015 if we can raise the capital. Phase 3: is the development of the wooded area including embankment slides, steps, paths and learning areas. Our hope is that these can be completed over 2015-16.
7. When was the last playground project by the PTO? What did it accomplish?
In 2007-08, the Bowen Playground Initiative (a group of Bowen parent volunteers) won a large city grant and raised money from parents to make many of the changes we now enjoy on the lower field. They installed the wood bridge-and-slide structure, the spider climbing structure, and the traditional swing set. They also fixed the field drainage, built the concrete pathway providing wheelchair access to the swings, purchased picnic tables and benches, built the retaining wall by the road to the upper field, and raised flower beds.
Those efforts were very successful, but two different construction projects to build the new modulars destroyed the grass and irrigation system. Those problems led us to organize a new playground drive in 2013.
8. Bowen has a long history of trying to sustain grass on the lower field without success. Why try again?
Our committee recognizes this challenge. The lower field was reduced to its worst condition of mud and ice in 2013-2014 mostly because the new modular construction broke the irrigation system, compacted the soil, and killed off the remaining grass. But maintaining grass on the lower field has often been an uphill battle!! The lower field is a small area adjacent to a busy school that receives a lot of traffic year round. Our playground committee first proposed to budget a large amount for an alternative surface, such as artificial turf or a rubberized play surface. City officials asked us to give grass one more try, with substantial public resources spent on repairing irrigation, preparing the soil for grass (Verti-quaking), and laying grass sod. The city paid for these repairs and the sod, not the PTO, and we appreciate the city’s support.
Our plan is focused on redesigning the space to give grass a chance to thrive, by offering more non-grass play options nearby and by attracting students to the upper field area. In partnership with the city, we worked together to add two new basketball courts, and the one on the upper field will draw more play to those spacious greens. The new double disc swings are on a wood chip surface. These plans reduce the amount of grass we need to sustain and reduce the traffic on that grass. The city is also more invested in maintaining the grass, because they made a special plea for us to help them give grass another chance with their assurances that the city will do more to maintain grass. If our best efforts fail in a few years, we have a stronger case for an alternative surface, but we are now optimistic that we have created better conditions for grass to survive.
9. Why is the new basketball court on the lower field positioned where it is?
City officials and our architect concluded that the south area of the lower field along the fence was the worst area for grass. This determination confirmed what Bowen veterans have known for a long time: that area needed a different surface. The southern edge is the lowest point of the lower field, where the drainage has been the worst, and where the thickest shade prevents grass from having access to the sun. With 470+ children, Bowen needs to use every inch of its limited outdoor space to its fullest.
10. Why did we add a new basketball court when we already have one behind the gym?
Due to Newton’s new security protocols, and the addition of the modulars, the area where the old basketball court is located is now used to dismiss Kindergarten students. So the area is not accessible to basketball for a portion of every afternoon. Additionally, many families arrive and depart Bowen via. Langley Path behind the school, and we continue to encourage this to help alleviate traffic in the blue zone. This further impacts the basketball court in the morning, afternoon, and late afternoon (aftercare dismissal). The reality is, it is not safe for kids to be playing basketball on this court for most of the school day.
11. I don’t have children who go to this school. Why should I help?
The Bowen playground is a community playground, and enhances the beauty of our neighborhood. It also reflects positively on our school, which is a big draw to new families moving into the community. We believe a strong school positively impacts housing prices. You don’t have to help, but if you live near Bowen or use the playground or fields, we would greatly appreciate your assistance. Giving back to the community keeps us all safe, healthy and strong.
12. How can I donate?
There are a few different ways you can donate to help us rebuild the Bowen community playground. Visit our Donate page to learn more. If you would like to donate your time, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
13. I‘d like to support the campaign, but I have no idea what size gift is appropriate. Can you advise me?
The simple answer is to give as generously as you feel comfortable. It is our hope we can reach our financial goal and achieve 100% participation. [coming soon: On the Bowen Playground Campaign’s website, you can find a gift pyramid which is one example of how we could reach our goal. You will see that there are gifts ranging from two to five figures so it is vital that we receive gifts in each category — every amount counts!] We also plan to include a way to get the children involved in raising money to teach them about philanthropy. Bowen Walks the Walk is one example of teaching participation in community responsibility.
Based on our fundraising so far, we know we can meet our goal. We hope that you will give until it feels good! If you would find it helpful to have a conversation, you may contact the heads of the Campaign or the PTO co-chairs for a confidential discussion.
14. Will the size of my gift be kept confidential?
Of course gifts and their amounts will be kept confidential. If you would like your gift to be anonymous, we can honor that request.
15. How else can I leverage and maximize my donation?
Many employers have a matching gifts program, which could double your gift with minimal added effort. Please contact your employer’s HR department for more information. You may also wish to encourage neighbors, grandparents and extended family to make a donation. We are also be reaching out to the business community for donations and encourage you to inquire if you have relationships with these organizations and can assist with our efforts.
16. A cash gift is simply not possible for our family at this time. Is there some other way I can help?
Yes! We need volunteers in several capacities including: fundraising from our Bowen Community; fundraising from non-Bowen families in the local area; fundraising to secure local business and corporate sponsors; assistance managing community building events throughout the year, and a Community Build. Please contact the PTO co-chairs for more information at email@example.com.
17. My own children have only another year or two left at Bowen. Is my support that critical?
Financial support of this effort is entirely voluntary and is a decision made by each family. The school and community appreciate your gift at any level so that the tradition of a strong school spirit may continue.
As a reminder, school playgrounds are City property and are therefore open to the public for everyone’s enjoyment. Your children may still wish to visit the playground on weekends even after Grade 5. While a new playground will primarily benefit the children attending Bowen, Bowen After-School Care Program, and the summer camps, the community at-large can benefit from a new playground as well.