Fisher Hill Elementary playground nears completion

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 04-30-2023 5:00 PM

ORANGE – Construction is coming along on what will be the new playgrounds at Fisher Hill Elementary School, and the local superintendent said students can look forward to the recreation areas opening in late August or early September.

Dr. Elizabeth Teahan-Zielinski said the site contractor, J&J Contractors of Billerica, is working diligently on a playground for students in pre-kindergarten through first grade and one for those in grades 2 through 6. The playgrounds will be on opposite sides of the renovated building.

“We have been very happy and very pleased with J&J,” she said. “They have been wonderful to work with.”

Teahan-Zielinski explained the playground with have apparatuses appropriate for the ages of the children they serve.

Bruce Scherer, chair of the Orange School Building Committee, said the playgrounds will be surrounded by soft, colorful synthetic play surfaces to protect students against falls. The smaller of the playgrounds will include a modest slide, sandstone letter blocks and an age-appropriate swing set, while the other has taller slides and a jungle gym.

“We’re incredibly happy with the work J&J is doing,” Scherer said. “They’re working on schedule. They’re doing everything they can to be ready for September.”

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Attempts to contact J&J Contractors were unsuccessful.

The previous playgrounds were torn up earlier this year to make room for the new ones, according to Martin Goulet of Hill International Inc., the company managing the project on behalf of the town. He said there is now an area of new lawn – with bicycles and wagons – for students to play on until the new playgrounds are ready.

The playgrounds’ construction is part of a $45 million project to expand Fisher Hill to a 97,000-square-foot building. A 50,000-square-foot addition was built and students in kindergarten through third grade moved into it from the school’s pre-existing section when winter break ended on Jan. 3. Students in those grades will ultimately return to the other section—which is being gutted and renovated—in the fall, at which point Dexter Park Innovation School students will be educated in the new addition. Dexter Park, built in 1951, is set to be demolished in the fall and replaced with a wildflower meadow.

Orange will contribute roughly $22 million to the project.

Dexter Park, which serves students in grades four through six, was designated in the lowest rating by the Massachusetts School Building Authority, a quasi-independent government authority. Voters approved funding a feasibility study in 2018 to study the Dexter Park issue and come up with options to repair or replace it. In 2020, residents voted to ratify a Proposition 2½ debt-exclusion override they had passed the previous week at Town Meeting to start the Fisher Hill addition and renovations.

Goulet said all work is on schedule and under budget. He said on Friday the project is about 85% complete.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.

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