Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Barrett School to Get New Playfield

This post was edited after its original publication earlier today. The edits fixed a couple factual errors. In particular, this project is paid for under one new budget line. --ST

The K.W. Barrett Elementary School’s field is going to get repaired this spring, if the budget process plays out as expected. Arlington Public Schools staff plan to use a new funding line in the schools’ budget to give Barrett and F. Scott Key Elementary School new playing fields in their backyards. The Barrett field has often been a combination of mud and puddles this school year. Key’s field is in similar shape.

“I have no bad feelings that [the project] won’t proceed forward,” said C.R. Lyons, the director of maintenance for the schools.

The $150,000 playfield maintenance and repair line is spent as part of the Minor Construction Major Maintenance process, which covers everything from playground equipment to interior painting of classrooms. Staff expects to split the money between the two schools, but it might not be split evenly. Mr. Lyons said there is a little money in reserve, as well, if the project runs over.

“We agreed this year to look at playground needs district-wide,” Mr. Lyons said, and to repair items that were broken. Barrett and Key school fields moved to first on the list. Under a different budget line last year Randolph and Claremont elementary schools had their fields repaired, he said.

A snowman stands on the Barrett field earlier this month. (Click to enlarge the image.)

Stone removal and planting will begin this spring, and the field will not be usable through the summer in order to give the grass time to grow and establish itself. Mr. Lyons said they have not gotten to the details of how much of the grass in Barrett's backyard will be replaced, but he said staff plans to look at the whole space, not just the baseball field.

The Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Resources handles field scheduling for non-school activities, such as summer T-ball. DPRCR did not return phone calls yesterday and this morning regarding the summer use of the space.

Barrett physical education teacher Robert McLaughlin said he was happy to hear that the field was scheduled for renovation as it would allow him to plan more events outside.

The biggest change he has seen is that the children often play soccer on the blacktop near the basketball courts. He said he’s waiting for a ball to fly over the nearby fence.

Also, the field can take days to dry off after rain or snow, so he has had to change plans, to move activities indoors or change which day they head outdoors.

“Kids are going to get dirty” especially this spring when they head outside to play soccer on the dry, dusty field, Coach McLaughlin said. He has been teaching at Barrett for five years, and last year was the worst year for the field, he said.

A group of older men began playing soccer on the field, at all times of day.

“They just don’t care,” Coach McLaughlin said, adding that they seemed to have a “live for today” attitude.

Principal Terry Bratt said she did not recognize anyone in the group of adults.

“No parent I recognized, no teenager I recognized,” she said, adding that many arrived in cars.

“I don’t know where they were coming from,” she said. They began arriving last spring and kept coming through this fall, she said. She spoke with them many times and was in contact with Arlington County Police Department’s “Community Policing” program. She said the players would leave when she told them to, but they would be back, sometimes during school or extended day (after school) hours.

“It didn’t matter what I did, I couldn’t get them to leave,” she said.

At times, they would be playing on the field while a T-ball game was underway. T-ball coaches would try to share the space. The men’s cleats tore up the field.

“It’s not meant for soccer, it’s meant for children to play with sneakers,” Mrs. Bratt said.

She said that protecting the new field will be difficult. The fence cannot be locked or groups allowed to use the field will not get in after hours or on the weekends.

Many parents are looking forward to a new field.

Dan Redmond talks to his son, Alec, about safety near a hole behind the baseball backstop in Barrett's playfield. (Click to enlarge the image.)

“Oh, good!” said Dan Redmond, a Barrett parent, when he heard the field was going to be renovated. His son, and many others, likes to explore a hole behind the baseball backstop that Mr. Redmond worries is a hazard.

Mrs. Bratt, who was unaware of the hole until it was mentioned for this article, wrote in an email that she would be looking into it.

The public schools budget moves through a lengthy process starting next month. It is finalized by April at which time reconstruction can begin, if the lines for this are approved.

Next year, two more schools will get fixed, Mr. Lyons said.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a friend of Dan Redmond’s. As well, the phone calls to DPRCR were yesterday afternoon and first thing this morning. They have not gotten back to me, but when they do I'll update you if there is more to this story. –ST

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