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Stonington to keep elementary school playgrounds closed to the public

Stonington — Superintendent of Schools Van Riley recommended to the school board Thursday that the playgrounds at West Vine Street and Deans Mill schools remain closed to the public due to vandalism and pet owners not cleaning up dog excrement.

Board members concurred. 

The closure is designed to avoid costly maintenance and cleanup costs and ensure the playgrounds are open for students. It will remain in effect this summer at West Vine Street School, which is hosting an expanded summer school program due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The playground at Deans Mill School, which is not being used for summer school, is expected to be open this summer.  

 "It's disappointing to say the least that people want to vandalize new schools, or bring their dogs," Riley told the board. 

He added the school system wants the public to enjoy the playgrounds but there has been a lot of vandalism, particularly at West Vine Street School. Some of the vandalism has involved people breaking the lower height basketball rims by hanging on them.

During questioning by the board, Riley said there are signs up with rules but people do not read signs and continue to bring their dogs onto the property. He said enforcement is difficult and monitoring security cameras would be a time-consuming task for staff.

In a letter to the school board, Riley wrote that it was the hope of school officials that the playgrounds could open to the public for use after school and on weekends. But he said when the playgrounds were opened for a few weeks prior to the pandemic last year, there were a number of problems with vandalism and people walking their dogs without cleaning up.

"The playgrounds and track/field areas were unusable by the elementary students during the school day," he wrote.

"While it is the desire of the District to open playgrounds and field areas for community use, the recommendation is to keep the areas closed while schools are in session in order to avoid costly maintenance and cleanup costs and have the areas available for student use," he wrote. 

Riley also wrote that there is currently an increased reliance on using outdoor spaces for teaching, recreation and dining and, like other parts of the school, they need to be safe and clean.

The principals at the two schools have also recommended that the playgrounds remain closed to the public due to COVID-19 restrictions as the schools do not permit visitors or parent volunteers on the property. When the playgrounds are reopened, they said consideration needs to be given to signage and enforcement of guidelines to maintain the playgrounds for years to come.

Among those rules would be requiring children to be supervised by a parent or guardian, restricting basketball hoops to those 12 and under and banning dogs, smoking, vaping, littering, and skateboarding. They also said the schools have the right to close public access to the playgrounds at any time if vandalism and destruction of property occurs.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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