Community pitches in to complete new playground at Petersham Center School

  • The playground team gathered for a group ortrait after a long, hot day of puzzling together and installing new equipment. Photo courtesy of Petersham Center School

  • The Petersham Center School playground area was made ready by school staff and the town's Highway Department, clearing out existing equipment. Plans allow for reuse of some pieces in tandem with new equipment. Photo courtesy of Petersham Center School

  • Climbing equipment, slides, game areas and a "climbable iceberg" comprise the new Petersham Center School playground, shown being installed by community volunteers. Photo courtesy of Petersham Center School

  • On July 14 and 15, school community and town volunteers participated in a two-day build to install the new playground equipment, resulting in significant cost savings. Photo courtesy of Petersham Center School

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 7/24/2022 4:26:40 PM
Modified: 7/24/2022 4:26:39 PM

PETERSHAM — Just a few finishing touches remain to complete work on a new playground at Petersham Center School, the elementary school that serves Petersham children in grades K-6. Volunteers recently spent two days digging, raking, hammering, assembling and, perhaps most importantly, cooperating in a project which will ultimately benefit the entire community.

School principal Aaron O’Connor told the Athol Daily News the entire community helped make the new playground a reality.

“This was my first year as principal here,” said O’Connor. “I was a teacher here previous to that. This started about six years ago with some fundraisers because the playground was getting toward its end. So, the principal at that time, with some fundraisers, the town participated, and then since then, the town has helped by appropriating some funds out of free cash. We then got to the point where we felt we had what we needed to do the best playground we could.”

O’Connor himself donated the use of some heavy equipment he owns to much of the site work.

“Because of that, we were able to get a much bigger playground for the cost because we did do a community build. The company sent out a supervisor and two associates, then we had about a dozen community volunteers come in for two days and we built it all together.”

The company referenced by O’Connor is Premier Park & Playground, based in Newton, from which the new equipment was purchased. The total cost of the project, he said, was “about $60,000.”

According to a release from Petersham Selectboard Chair Nancy Allen, much of the funding came from money raised from spaghetti suppers and bake sales, as well as private donations, funds approved by voters at the 2021 Annual Town Meeting, and monies provided to the town under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

O’Connor explained that the old playground equipment hadn’t yet reached a point where it posed a safety concern, adding, “We knew some of the items really weren’t up to code anymore, or at least getting to that point. Everything was still functional as it was, but it was getting to where we were probably going to be at that point soon, where we were going to have to start making parts of the playground off limits to the students. Luckily, we were able to get this built before we got there.”

O’Connor credited Allen for her work on the project.

“Nancy was kind of the leading force on a lot of this,” he said. “When I came in this year, I knew it was something we needed to get done and she and I started early this year and we formed a community group to kind of pick the project up again because it had gotten dropped during COVID. We re-formed a new playground committee, we reached out to three or four different companies and had them do some designs for us. Then, as a committee, we decided on the design we liked. Then I put out feelers to the community for volunteers and we had a great turnout.”

Work on the playground took place on July 14 and 15, and a load of mulch to be used as groundcover was delivered on July 18.

“Many people have put a lot of quality time and skills into this project for which the school community and town are super grateful,” said Allen. “I think the team would agree it does not take anything away from all of the devoted effort to highlight that it likely would not have come together this way and on budget without Principal Aaron’s skill set, determination, and leadership to make the big final push to get this done and ready to go. Aaron really dedicated himself to the extra work it took to make this happen for the students and visitors who will enjoy the new setting for years to come.”

O’Connor added, “I’m going to do what I’m calling a ‘soft opening’ where I’m going to invite the volunteers and their families to come play on it first, because they were so instrumental in putting it in. We’ll do some kind of grand opening or ribbon cutting to open it back to the community.

“We’re such a small community, this is used by everybody in the area, not just the students. This is the only playground in the town, and it’s utilized by everybody. So, we do want to have a community unveiling for the playground.”

Greg Vine can be reached at

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