KENNEBUNK, Maine — Construction on a new playground at Kennebunk Elementary School is underway, and this project has a special twist.
In 2019, the Kennebunk Elementary School Parent Teacher Association approached the school with an idea of replacing the old playground with a new, all-inclusive one. That meant students of all abilities would be able to access all parts of it — not just one or two areas, which is currently the standard under the American Disabilities Act.
"I think the value in it is obvious the moment you see some kids on it," Erin O'Reilly Jakan, a parent who has been leading the charge on this project since its beginning, said.
The group presented its plan to the school board and then began fundraising. After years of hard work, the playground is finally being built.
"We’ve run Facebook pages. We’ve had canned [good] drives. We’ve had three-year-olds collecting pennies and having lemonade stands," O'Reilly Jakan said, noting the total cost of the project will be between $250,000 and $275,000.
That hefty price tag is why donors have played such a critical role. The Wyatt Frost Memorial Foundation has donated $30,000 so far in memory of Wyatt, a five-year-old boy with autism who was killed in a car crash in 2016.
"He really was kind of the light of all of our lives," Wendy Shaw, Wyatt's grandmother, said. She said this playground makes her hopeful for kids like Wyatt who will get to use it.
"I think that he would have loved this, loved the colors, loved to be able to go play on it," Shaw said.
The playground features a wide ramp that loops around the entire structure. It's also made with bright blue and green materials to help people who may be visually impaired. Art LeBlanc, vice chair of RSU 21, said he expects the playground will be key in student development.
"I think it’s really important that all students have an opportunity to go to the playground and enjoy being outdoors and being able to get off the ground and go up the ramp to a platform," LeBlanc said, later adding, "Research has shown that it affects test scores, development. Really, it’s all about student growth."
Principal Ryan Quinn said he hopes this playground will serve as a model for other schools around the state.
"This playground could ultimately become a standard for what all playgrounds should be like for kids. They all deserve to have a playground that they all can access," Quinn said.
The playground is expected to be completed and ready for use in the spring. LeBlanc said RSU 21's goal is to budget funds to bring this type of playground to other schools in the district.
Some of the biggest donors for this project include: