Inclusive playground approved

Published 11:30 pm Friday, October 19, 2018

After months of planning, meeting with city and school officials and community meetings, the Inclusive Play Project was unanimously approved by the Suffolk School Board Thursday evening to design, build and donate an inclusive playground at Northern Shores Elementary School.

Meg Diggs, the organizer of the Inclusive Play Project, showed the School Board some of the group’s basic plans and ideas for the new playground, including spinning mechanisms, roller slides and poured-in-place rubber.

The school administration was happy with the plan, and Director of Facilities and Planning Terry Napier commended Diggs and her group for their work over the last few months.

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“I commend Mrs. Diggs and her entire team for doing an outstanding job,” Napier said. “We have a little experience with playgrounds, and this is a good one, I can tell you that.”

At the last meeting, the School Board had concerns regarding the cost impact, liability and how the playground will affect a proposed addition to Northern Shores. Napier addressed all of the concerns, which helped lead to the unanimous vote in favor of the playground.

The school division currently maintains all of the school playgrounds, and according to Napier, the new playground would not add a large financial impact. The only added expense would be the poured surface.

“The only expense would be to repair the surface, and we would hire someone to do the work,” Napier said. “I don’t see it as an expense we wouldn’t incur with our other playgrounds.”

The only other large concern from the School Board was the size and how it could affect the addition previously approved for Northern Shores. Napier believes that the playground won’t affect the addition but believes the best course of action is to do the addition and playground at the same time.

“We don’t feel like the playground is going to cause problems. We would suggest the addition and the playground be done at the same time,” Napier said. “We are afraid the engineer might need to do something to the playground area, and we don’t want to undo the good work.”

The school division will have its engineer design and do the work on the infrastructure, and the Inclusive Play Project will have its own architects design and build the playground.

Napier wants the two projects to be a collaborative effort.

“It makes no sense to do this separately, and as far as design, they have that well in hand and we don’t want to get in the way,” Napier said.

Now that the project is approved, Superintendent Dr. Deran Whitney will approach the city about signing a joint use agreement so the city will take over maintenance and ownership during the school’s off hours.

After the vote, Diggs and Northern Shores Principal Lori White were happy to know that Suffolk will have one of only three inclusive playgrounds in Hampton Roads. They were even happier to have it at Northern Shores.

“I’m incredibly excited. She (Diggs) has been such a champion for our students and our school. This vision is now going to come to life,” White said. “I think it is going to bring a renewed excitement to our kids and to our staff.”

“I’m ecstatic. This is wonderful, and this is going to be so amazing for so many children. It’s really going to impact their lives,” Diggs said.