Huntington WoodsJune 20, 2012
Burton seeking funds for playground improvement project
By Jeremy Selweski
C & G Staff Writer
HUNTINGTON WOODS — There was a party going on at Burton Elementary School on June 13, but a group of school parents are hoping that the real celebration will begin a year from now.
The pizza and dance fiesta was held in honor of the last day of school and also to recognize that Burton students had raised about $35,000 in just six weeks for an extensive community improvement project. The first step of the project will be to construct an outdoor pavilion and classroom in memory of Maureen Simon, a beloved former first-grade teacher at Burton who passed away suddenly last year.
The pavilion is part of a larger project estimated to cost around $440,000. The full project includes installing a new, sustainable, cutting-edge playscape at Burton Community Park that will last for up to 50 years, as well as sprucing up the surrounding basketball courts and other play areas.
“This playground is really widely used by the entire Huntington Woods community, not just the students at Burton,” explained Susan Witus, one of several parents leading the charge on the project as the Friends of Burton Community Park. “We’re very lucky because we have a lot of really talented people working with us on this. We just want to thank all the Burton families for all their great help so far.”
The existing wooden playscape was built by hand by a group of Woods residents in 1994 as a gift to the community. However, over time, the structure has gradually begun to deteriorate. Splinters have recently become a recurring problem, as have the number of small animals and insects making their home there.
Safety has also been a concern for parents and school officials. Burton Principal Maribeth Krehbiel pointed out that she has had to make three trips to the hospital because of students who have gotten hurt on the playscape.
“The current playground is in very poor condition, and it’s definitely not as safe as it should be,” she said. “It also is not up to ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) code right now, so our children with disabilities are not able to use the equipment like the rest of their peers.”
The fundraising campaign began in April with the Burton Classroom Challenge, which Witus described as “a pep rally that officially kicked things off.” In the ensuing weeks, students and parents began raising money in various capacities, and Burton teachers got in on the action as well by offering fun incentives, such as dyeing their hair, additional recess time and pizza parties. The next step for the Friends of Burton Community Park will be to reach out to local businesses and community organizations to gain sponsorships for the project.
The design for the new playscape has already been drafted and will be revealed at a community meeting held June 27 at 7 p.m. at the Huntington Woods Recreation Center, 26325 Scotia Road. The public is invited to attend.
While creating the plans for the outdoor pavilion, it was decided that the structure would be built in honor of Simon. Simon died unexpectedly on May 27, 2011, after teaching first grade at Burton for 26 years and spending 34 total years working in the Berkley School District. She was 61 years old.
According to Witus, Simon was “a very dedicated, creative teacher who really loved what she did. She was beloved by people in the Burton community, so her passing was a big loss for our school.”
The pavilion will be located at the west end of the park and will feature picnic tables that are sheltered from the weather. It will be available for Burton teachers to use as an outdoor classroom, as well as for visitors to the Recreation Center, adults bringing their kids to the park or any other community residents.
The Friends of Burton Community Park have an ambitious timeline for the project. They hope to finish collecting all the required funds by February 2013 and begin construction on the park by the time school gets out in June.
“We don’t want to drag it out any longer than necessary,” Witus said. “We want to make this a fast and furious fundraising campaign. That playground is coming to the end of its life and needs to be replaced as soon as possible.”
Krehbiel agreed. “It’s going to be a challenge, but we want this to be a quick process,” she said. “When you have a really long deadline, I think you tend to lose your focus and motivation a little bit. We are very optimistic that we can do this by next February because we have so many passionate, dedicated families at our school.”
Witus noted that in addition to strong assistance from the Burton community, the project has also won the support of the Berkley School District and the city of Huntington Woods.
The $440,000 price tag will cover everything from demolition of the existing playscape and construction of the new structure to resurfacing the basketball courts and landscaping the surrounding area. Witus said that some people in the community have criticized the scope of the project as too elaborate and the cost as too high, but she vigorously defended the vision of the Friends of Burton Community Park.
“The current playground was built by Huntington Woods residents with their own hands, and even that cost about $250,000 to do 18 years ago,” she explained. “So to ask for $440,000 today is not an outrageous sum, especially when the new playground is expected to last so much longer than the old one, and it includes all these other upgrades.”
For Krehbiel, the time has clearly come for a change at Burton Community Park. “That playground has done some marvelous things for us, but we’re ready for something new,” she said. “We need to have a park that’s welcoming and available to all children in the community. It’s a wonderful place to be, but now it just needs to be reinvented.”
To make a donation to the Friends of Burton Community Park, go to www.crowdrise.com/burtoncommunitypark or mail checks to Susan Witus at 13316 Balfour St., Huntington Woods, MI 48070. For more information, e-mail BCPfriends@gmail.com or visit www.facebook.com/FOBCP.
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