Fitness Play Area Planned for Washington Irving. 
EPTA-sponsored project to open in September

Starting this school year, Washington Irving School is host to the Public Schools of the Tarrytowns’ 3rd though 5th graders. Originally built as a high school, the 3rd graders added this year are the youngest students ever taught in the building.

Over the years, Washington Irving School (WI) has done everything that’s been asked of it, much like Morse – its fellow “high school turned elementary school”  in Sleepy Hollow. But the simple fact remains that the school was built with kids ages 14-17 in mind, not 8-10. This is most obvious when you visit the school during recess or lunch, or drive by before school. The students run around on the track, shoot basketball, play “wall ball,” but otherwise have little to do but mill around in groups.

A group of parents and teachers plan to change that.

The idea sprang to life from some off-hand remarks and comments to parent representatives of the EPTA (the Elementary Parent/Teacher Association) at WI, and has evolved into a driven committee of parents, teachers, and administrators who have been meeting since October with a single purpose in mind — to see a playground built this summer, in time for the 2011/2012 school year. It is a committee of which I am proud to be a member.

The location of this new playground will be on the small field along Franklin Avenue. Currently, a large cement wall – a remnant from the time when WI boasted full-sized tennis courts and actual handball courts – stands alone near the fence. This wall is quite popular with the students, who play nonstop games of “wall ball,” and the project intends to leave the wall as is. The new playground will exist on the east side of the wall, taking up the space that is currently blacktop and extending a bit farther, towards the hill. During non-school hours, the new playground will be open to the public.

The first task of the committee was to identify the parameters of the project. Aside from parents and EPTA representatives – some with extensive construction and project management experience – prominent members include WI Principal Greene, and two of the school’s physical education instructors, Lara Vivolo and Jorge Veintimilla. Their input proved vital to the committee, because these are the people with our children every day, these are the teachers who know what sort of playground would be most beneficial to the students. Ms. Vivolo and Mr. Veintimilla also took the pulse of some of their students, who created diagrams and designs of what they’d like to see in a new playground.

In the end, the committee moved away from the idea of building an ordinary playground. Rather, they plan on building a Fitness Play Area, specializing in climbing, balance, aerobic activity, and imaginative play. The basic requirements of the playground are the following:


  1. That it is to be built for boys and girls ages 8-10.
  2. That it will be able to accommodate up to 50 children at any one time without creating long lines for turns on the equipment.
  3. That it encourages exercise, activity, and imaginative play.
  4. That it be made of sustainable materials where possible.
  5. That it require minimal upkeep or annual maintenance.
  6. The committee hopes to send out RFPs to selected companies by early 2011. Once the designs and their proposed costs come in, the selected finalists will be reviewed by parents, teachers, and students for input, and the committee will choose a final design in the first month or so of the new year.

Meanwhile, while one subcommittee is designing the new fitness playground, another is hard at work raising money for the project. With no final design yet chosen, the final price tag of the endeavor cannot be exactly known. However, the committee is looking to raise between $75,000 and $100,000 to cover costs. The first fund-raiser, a walk-a-thon in November, started the ball rolling by raising over $5,100. Other fund raisers are planned throughout the year, including a family dance, a wine tasting event at Grape Expectations, a Bingo night, an event at Main Street Sweets featuring the staff and administration of WI scooping ice cream, another walk-a-thon in the spring, and more.

Also, the committee has begun sending out grant applications to foundations and corporations, and a few companies have already approached the committee about matching donation programs. $100,000 is an aggressive goal, but the outpouring of support from the community has given the committee optimism.

In an effort to keep the parents, students, and the community-at-large involved and engaged in the project, the committee has set up a website with, a national playground-building website. Just visit to get up-to-date information and the latest photos and designs, join in the discussion with other parents, or even make an online donation.

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About the Author: David Neilsen