Juan Saez remembers playing on a fabricated, metal school bus when he attended H.O. Brittingham Elementary School in Milton.
“We used to fight over who would drive the bus,” he said.
The bus is still there, but now the steering wheel is gone. The worn poles and plank benches have also seen better days.
Nine years ago, Saez said, he was at the playground for his son's birthday party when someone put a portable barbecue on the wood seat. A burn mark still remains.
Less than a mile away, Milton Elementary boasts neat rows of play options on its well-designed playground; across the district, a palatial playset at Shields Elementary is the focal point of its playground.
Both playgrounds stand as stark reminders that not all playgrounds are created equal in Cape. For HOB, a school already struggling to match the test scores of its district counterparts, a mediocre playground perpetuates a negative public perception, Saez said.
It comes down to fairness among the four elementary schools, he said. A fifth school will be added to the district in a couple of years.
“If you do it for one school, you should do it for the others,” Saez said.
Saez is leading the charge to improve HOB's playground, and he said he welcomes community support.
Joining Saez in his effort is Cape grad Tyra Jones who also remembers playing on HOB's playground when she was a student there.
“I was in shock that it was the same equipment that I played on, and I'm 33,” she said.
At HOB, patches of ground-up, rubber pellets and a faint outline are all that's left where a merry-go-round and another unknown piece of playground equipment once sat. Close by, a couple of newer, plastic playsets are set in a bed of mulch, a fading map of the United States decorates the blacktop.
Saez said he believes the swing set is also the same one he played on as a child.
Jones said she has priced playground equipment, and she has some ideas for fundraising. In addition to attracting big donors, she said, students could hold penny drives that would help them feel part of the process, especially since the new equipment would be for them.
“Students need to get outside, be active and play,” Jones said.
Saez says the time has come to improve not only HOB's playground but also Rehoboth Elementary. Although students in Rehoboth's kindergarten and first-grade building have easy access to new playsets, students in the big building that holds second to fifth grade have little playground equipment near their building.
Principal Trish Mumford said students in the big building rotate time between the playground near the primary building and blacktop play areas near the big building. A swing set soon will be added near the big building, she said.
Mumford said while she would welcome extra fundraising help for playground equipment, she believes the PTO is doing a great job. Older students are fine with the playground arrangment; many enjoy team sports such as basketball or soccer when they play outside,” she said.
Shields Principal Jenny Nauman said a community group paid for the wooden playset in 1994, but she did not know how much they paid for it. Shields PTO bought a set of swings and some playground equipment near the wooden set, she said. In 2011, a group of 40 employees with Schell Brothers volunteered time and supplies to stain the playset.
At Milton Elementary, Principal Keith Mumford said he used a $100,000 bonus from a 21st Century Grant to help pay for equipment. The bonus was given to the school because Milton has a successful after-school program, he said. With the extra money, Mumford said, he bought some new swing sets, which extended an existing row along the backside of the playground. A blacktop painted with hopscotch and four square greets visitors followed by mulch-lined playsets – not unlike HOB's equipment.
“My goal is to have enough equipment for all the kids to play on,” he said. “It cuts down on discipline problems.”
Through his work as a roof contractor, Saez said he has made connections with builders and developers, many who were willing to donate supplies when Saez was the football coach at Mariner Middle School.
While he coached at Mariner from 2002 to 2010, Saez said, local professionals helped draw up plans and offered supplies to build an athletic facility near the football field. He said there were people willing to do electric work and plumbing – everything needed to build a two-story facility that would have served as a workout room on the second floor and equipment storage on the first floor. “People were ready to step in and help,” Saez said.
The plan, however, was shot down by previous administrators and school board members, he said.
“They asked what are you going to do for Beacon,” he said. “I was told we couldn't build something like that at Mariner unless we were going to build one at Beacon.”
Apparently, no one felt that way when the playground was built at Shields, he said.
This time around, Saez said, he's confident he can get community support for the playgrounds. Even if it means only putting a touch of paint here and some blacktop improvements there, he said.
“There are a lot of people who will be willing to help out once the word gets out,” he said.
HOB Principal Christy Greaves said she supports Saez's plan since there is no money in the budget for playground improvements.
“We're all for it,” she said. “Anything we get would have to come out of some kind of community effort.”
Anyone interested in helping with the playground effort can call Saez at 344-5990 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.