Rutherford Elementary creates new playgrounds


Photo submitted by Nicole Heggernes

Rutherford Elementary’s big playground is over 25 years old. The structure is not as safe as it once was, and is unable to be repaired.

Rutherford Elementary is currently fundraising to replace the school’s two original playgrounds from 1998. The new playgrounds will better suit students and create a more inclusive playground experience.

The initial fundraising for the playgrounds is complete with the help of the district and the Rutherford community. All extra donations are going towards long-term maintenance funding. Rutherford will install the new playgrounds in the fall of 2024.

The two existing playgrounds are over 25-years-old and not all students can play on them. Pieces of equipment that fall into disrepair are not replaced due to the age of the playgrounds.

“The playgrounds reached 25 years old. If you think of how advanced technology is in the last 25 years, and even thinking of anything that’s sitting in the elements for 25 years, it’s outdated and not as safe as safety standards are today,” playground committee chairperson Kate Berg said.

The big playground will have a new location away from the school. It will move to the field behind the building to minimize disruptions to classrooms. Students will have a larger space for motor activities such as kickball, football and soccer.

Kindergarten teacher Kelly Taverna said the school was originally leery about the new location due to the loss of field space. The big playground is being built in the area of the field that is used least. Physical education classes will still have students still using the fields and the trail even if other students are on the playground.

Rutherford’s current students had a say in parts of the new playgrounds. The students got to decide on what the freestanding parts of the playground would include. A ninja warrior course with fun obstacles was chosen in a vote, as well as other freestanding pieces.

“Every single child from pre-K through fifth grade got to have six different votes on 18 different pieces of equipment,” Berg explained. “They all got to have a voice, and the ones that were the most popular, those are the ones that we’re going to put in.”

The new playground will be ADA-compliant and accessible to all students. The current playgrounds are not accessible, with ramps that are off the ground and an uneven woodchip surfacing underneath the structures. With the new playgrounds and rubber surfacing, all students will be able to play on the playground together. Play on the new playgrounds will become inclusive of every student.

Berg explained she is passionate about students seeing how important it is to be inclusive of others. Many of the students can play just fine on the playground, but some are unable to. Students will learn to work hard to include others. They will see the importance of inclusivity and accessibility for others at a young age.

The current space for the big playground will become an outdoor learning space with a brick patio. Community members, alumni and current families have the option to purchase custom engraved bricks placed on the patio. The bricks are a way to honor incoming and graduating Rutherford students, as well as teachers, staff members or alumni.

“We’re going to try to take that whole area and repave it with just bricks,” Taverna said. “Each family that wants to can have their name on one of the bricks. We’re going to try to put down an awning out there so kids can be out there learning even if it’s hot. Even if it was maybe rainy, they can even be sitting under the awning.”

Students are excited for the playgrounds to be installed for the 2024-25 school year. Thanks to the district, Rutherford can update their playgrounds to be safer and create a more inclusive playground experience. With a new location and larger space for field activities, the big playground is suitiable for Rutherford Elementary’s growing student population.