HARRISON – Out with the teeter totters. In with the dolphins on springs.

But please, don’t take away the monkey bars.

In the Oxford Hills School District, many pieces of playground equipment have worn out. Wooden sets, popular 15 years ago, are splintered and battered.

These replacements have caused school officials to look at what the current students want for the most important subject of the day – recess.

Playgrounds, which used to be built on pavement, now are desired in a more natural surrounding.

Students prefer colorful equipment. Parents are concerned with safety issues.

Harrison Elementary School is getting an entire face-lift. Around Nov. 13 school officials had to remove the wooden play set because it was no longer safe for kids, Principal Patricia Bradbury said. Now a group of Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School students in the computer-aided design class are designing the replacement.

Tuesday the design students worked on different tasks in creating the playground. Some mapped the land on a computer. Others sketched the new layout by hand.

Their goal is to create something that is colorful, appropriate for all ages, and handicap accessible, said senior Elise Hodgdon.

They’ve dubbed the assignment “Project Adventure.”

Sirois said since the community funds the schools, the schools should give back to the community. That is why his students took on this project.

The students will create two models – one to fit a modest budget, and another designed for more extravagant spending.

“We have the preliminaries done,” said teacher Paul Sirois. “We hadn’t focused on what we’ll use in terms of materials and equipment.”

Currently the design shows separate play areas to accommodate the older and younger kids. For the sixth -graders who may have outgrown the swing sets, pathways weave through the playground, a garden, a teatherball court and a small nature trail bordering the woods.

Tuesday class member Joe French sat made a rough sketch while sitting in front of a computer. He was designing the outdoor classroom, which is octagon shaped with a “gazebo-like” structure.

The school still has a few pieces of equipment that are still in tact, and the students are using those in the design.

Students did a lot of research before starting the project – what equipment is out there? What safety concerns should be kept in mind? What are the standards for students with disabilities?

The playground will be lined with a plastic mulch, which is safer if kids fall, and easier for students in wheelchairs to navigate.

The students should have preliminary plan done soon. The school aims to have the new play area complete in the spring or early summer of 2007, Bradbury said.

The parent teacher organization had already been saving for two years to replace it, and now have $6,700. The Harrison Boosters have also agreed to kick in $5,000.

Paris Elementary

As the new elementary school in Paris, scheduled to open in February, was designed for the modern day student, so were its playgrounds.

The school is being built with three separate play areas – one for pre-schoolers, one for students in the lower grades and one for kids in the upper grades, said owner’s representative John Marshall.

Equipment in each respective area is designed for the specific age group. For the upper grades, Marshall said he is looking to put in a small basketball court, something that was not in the original plans.

Other new playgrounds

Agnes L. Gray Elementary School in West Paris has also gotten new playground equipment recently. Their old structure was also wooden and rotted out.

School officials also looked at what students needed in playgrounds.

“We found a need for upper body and climbing equipment,” said Principal Melanie Ellsworth.

Oxford Elementary is also replacing their equipment, piece by piece. Otisfield has also been updated.

David Marshall, buildings and grounds supervisor, said custodians do monthly inspections of all playground equipment. When something is old, they seek to replace it.

Funding comes from the local parent-teacher organizations. Building and school officials get input from parents and kids, basing it off Consumer Reports findings.

Lately, parents don’t like teeter-totters and merry-go-rounds because the cause accidents.

The kids “like the multi-use structures, with slides, stairs and poles.”

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