Harwich Community Playground at Harwich Elementary School

  • Harwich Community Playground

    The playground at Harwich Elementary School, called Castle in the Clouds, has long been a unique and beloved part of the school and the Town of Harwich.

    Castle in the Clouds was built in 1994 via a community build, after years of hard work and fundraising by a group of committed Harwich residents. Prior to that project, HES had a very small playground, and a committee, led by Donald Howell, worked tirelessly to create a new and expanded playspace for students and visitors alike. Nearly 800 townspeople came together over a few days to build the playground. It remains a testament to teamwork and collaboration.

    The facilities team at Harwich Public Schools and later Monomoy Regional School District have worked diligently over the years to maintain the equipment, making repairs and adjustments when necessary, often with input and advice from Leathers and Associates (the original manufacturer/designer). 

    However, time takes its toll, and 25 years later, Castle in the Clouds is not the safe and accessible playground our children deserve. 

    A safety audit was performed in November 2018 by an independent third party, which found numerous safety concerns. These include: poor sightlines; head entrapment risks; splinters; impalement risks; rotting wood; code violations (height of equipment, etc.); and surfacing.

    Equally important, the current playground is not accessible to children or adults with mobility differences, such as wheelchair users. Current code calls for a poured rubber surface or similar to allow for accessibility, yet even if solid surfacing were installed, much of the equipment itself is not universally usable due inaccessible features such narrow walkways and stairwells, improper handrails, and uneven surfaces.

    In addition, the type of treated wood used in Castle in the Clouds is no longer used by Leathers due to rotting and chemical use (it contains Calcium Chromium Arsenic, which could be absorbed by the soil and by children through contact or ingestion). 

    After a consultation, Leathers advised that this piece of equipment has a 20-year lifespan in ideal weather conditions. In 2019, it will have been in place for 25 years. While expensive stopgap repairs could be made, the overall safety and accessibility issues would not be resolved.

    A committee has been formed to review the current state of the playground at HES and possible solutions. Members include parents/community members, Harwich Recreation Department staff, HES PTO, local first responders, school committee members, MRSD teachers/staff, youth coaches and more. The committee has concluded that the safety and accessibility of our children is the primary concern, and recommends moving forward with a new playspace. The long-term vision is for a true community recreation area including playgrounds, outdoor classroom space, basketball courts, soccer fields, and pickleball courts.

    Initial site design work for a new play structure will be paid for by the Harwich PTO, as a primary supporter of this project. Approximately $33,000 for the Harwich Community playground was raised by Harwich students and families during the “Fun Run” in February 2019, which was organized by the HES PTO. The Harwich PTO will coordinate additional fundraising as the project progresses. HES Playground Committee meetings are open to the public. If you are interested in learning more, contact HES Principal Mary Oldach at moldach@monomoy.edu.