By Rachel Goff

When Moretown voters approved the construction of new town offices on the current site of the Moretown Elementary School playground, students saw the required relocation as an opportunity for a new and improved recess hangout space.

Since last December, a group of fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders—dubbed the "playground ambassadors"—have been collecting feedback from classmates and partnering with local experts to put together a design for a new playground, which they presented to the Moretown Select Board at their meeting on Monday, May 19.

In researching the design, students sought the advice of landscape designers, permaculturists and treehouse builders, as well as Moretown teachers and the state secretary of education, Rebecca Holcombe. Along the way, "we discovered some serious drainage issues that made us rethink our design," one student said last Monday, but with every challenge they worked together to come up with a solution, in this case installing a small bridge to traverse a swale.

According to the design, which students drew up both by hand and using the computer program SketchUp Pro, the new playground will be located just east of the school parking lot. The recess hangout space will include a treehouse, a climbing structure, three tire swings and a four-square court, and it will make use of existing geographical features by using the sledding hill behind the school as a spot for a slide. The new playground will salvage some items from the existing playground, such as the swing set, and new items will incorporate as many natural materials as possible, the students explained in their presentation to the board.

The preliminary cost estimate for the playground as the students presented it comes in around $56,000, but it could be done in phases, they explained, as some items are cheaper and easier to build than others.

"This is certainly very impressive," select board chair Tom Martin said in response to the students' design and presentation on Monday. "We're behind the playground," he said.

When the Moretown Town Office Committee selected the site of the school's current playground on which to build new town offices after the old ones were destroyed due to flooding from Tropical Storm Irene, the town set aside $25,000 from the Deeryard Fund reserved for children toward rebuilding the recess hangout space. The rebuilding project will also be paid for in part with a grant Moretown Elementary School received from the Vermont Rural Partnership. The playground ambassadors' next step will be to explore additional funding sources.