‘It’s Nice To See Kids Maintaining Their Childhood’: Saxe Middle School Principal Defends $200,000 Request for New Playground Equipment

When playground equipment was purchased a dozen years ago for Saxe Middle School with about $125,000 in privately raised funds, many in town debated whether the gear would be used by the students there at all, Principal Greg Macedo said Wednesday night.

Yet today, it sees regular use not only among fifth- and sixth-graders, according to Macedo, but also from seventh- and eighth-graders.

That’s partly for reasons of status—the older kids like to run out and get on the playground equipment first—and partly because students rotate from there during outdoor recess to a playing field and on to a game of tag, Macedo told members of the Town Council at their regular meeting.

“Remember now we are talking about middle-schoolers, so ‘free play’ in their mind is socialization—before maybe physical education, or even recreation,” Macedo said at the meeting, held in Town Hall. “So oftentimes you will see students climb the equipment and then want to stay there to socialize.”

The comments came during an opening round of budget discussions between the Board of Education and Town Council, the elected body that has final say over next fiscal year’s municipal spending plan.

The district’s request for $200,000 for new playground equipment at Saxe in its proposed capital spending for fiscal year 2018 survived the Board of Finance, which recommended that it go to bonding.

Overall, the Board of Ed had asked for about $4 million in capital spending for next fiscal year—41 percent has been cut so far, including $53,000 in district-wide engineering services, $220,000 total for corridor ventilation at Saxe, East and West, $26,500 for classroom outdoor air dampers at East and $120,000 for sound system at the NCHS auditorium. The major capital budget reductions came from special projects involving propane tanks ($819,150) and energy conservation ($300,000).

Councilman John Engel asked for Macedo to gauge the importance of the playground equipment at Saxe.

“Is it important to replace?” Engel said. “I know it’s important that it be safe but it begs the question: Why do we have a playground at Saxe in the first place? Does it warrant spending $200,000 on it? Is it the most important use of $200,000 in a year where we are needing to repair and replace and upgrade our high school track and sod fields and do so many other things? It feels like a nice to have, not a need to have.”

Macedo said that the playground equipment not only gets use but also fits into a larger “free play” approach at the school.

“It’s nice to see kids maintaining their childhood,” Macedo said. “About half of the middle schools in Connecticut don’t offer an outdoor recess time. They force students into more of a silent sustained study hall or silent sustained reading period. It’s not anything that New Canaan has ever wanted to do or entertained.”

Town Council Vice Chairman Steve Karl said he had spoken to two mothers who “implored me to keep that amount of money for the playground.”

The women underscored that it’s not only used by students at recess but after school and on weekends by kids during lacrosse and soccer games and by residents of the neighborhood, Karl said.

“It really is a very, very useful playground,” he said.

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