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New Playground Unveiled at Spruce Elementary School

Spruce playgroundThe playground at North Tonawanda’s Spruce Elementary recently held its grand reopening. The three-year project to replace and redesign the space has been a labor of love for the school’s Parent Teacher Organization, administration and school community.

In summer of 2018, Spruce Parent Teacher Organization (SPTO) then Co-Secretary Tara O’Brien and SPTO Co-President Jillian Swan were lamenting about how unattractive and unsafe the playground had become. “There was exposed metal and rust all over it,” says Mrs. O’Brien, who is now a Co-President of the SPTO. “There were cracks around the bolts in the tunnels, cracks in the slide and missing pieces replaced with boards. It was really heartbreaking.”

Looking at first to repair the damage, they decided to have a fundraiser and decided on collecting change. Brittany Zandi, Spruce parent and current Co-Secretary for the SPTO, volunteered to look for grants that could also assist in the cost. The SPTO was thrilled to have raised $2,813.02 in their penny drive that fall and started to consult with playground companies for prices and ideas. They soon learned that what they collected was not even close to what they needed to make the updates – the price tag was over $35,000. They held three more Pennies for Playground fundraisers in fall 2018, spring 2019 and spring 2020 and collected an additional $1,968. They also received word in 2019 that they received a generous grant from the East Hill Foundation, but the stipulation was that it had to be used within a year.

The SPTO approached NTSCD Superintendent Greg Woytila and the Board of Education and showed them what they had raised and the photos of the playground to see if they could help with costs to make the repairs. The Board of Education directed them to start designing and constructing a new playground. The Playground committee, which included School Principal Patricia Adler, sent home surveys to find out what their families would like to see on the playground. The committee looked through catalogues and met with Parkitects, a Western New York playground builder, after they had their survey list which included swings, climbing equipment, glider, etc. They also emphasized they wanted a tree theme to fit the school’s name. “We met with Ben Frasier from Parkitects and he took all our ideas and gave them to one of their architects and she came up with an amazing design,” says O’Brien. “We had multiple delays because of the pandemic, but now it is installed and it is all worth the wait.”

The whimsical tree theme and brand-new play structures features accessibility and clearer sightlines for supervising guardians for the children and is a huge hit with the community. When members of the SPTO, administration and school families arrived for the ribbon cutting, there were a lot of smiles and laughter. “Every bump in the road, every hour we spent collecting and counting coins, applying for grants, meeting, planning, emailing, calling, and following up was worth it,” says O’Brien. “The Spruce Parent Teacher Organization is so grateful for the grant from the East Hill Foundation that helped finance and move forward the whole project. But this playground would not have been built without the support of the Spruce community, Mr. Woytila, the School Board, everyone in the district that helped make this happen, and especially Mrs. Adler, who supported and encouraged the SPTO and the playground project both as a Principal and as a Playground Committee member from the very first fundraiser through to the final installation. The SPTO is hugely grateful to all of them and to Parkitects for designing and installing a beautiful and exciting Spruce-themed playground that our kids and the community will be able to enjoy for many years to come.”

Officials at ribbon cutting

Above (left to right): Cheryl McMahon (former Board of Education member), Brittany Zandi (SPTO), Jillian Swan (SPTO), Melisa Kiblin (SPTO), Tony Montoro (Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services), Patti Adler (Spruce Elementary Principal), Greg Woytila (NTCSD Superintendent), Kathryn Engel (SPTO), Tara Berry, Krista Vince Garland (Board of Education member) and James Hart (Director of Facilities).

Superintendent pushing students on playground spinner

Above: Superintendent Greg Woytila pushing students on the spinner.