Head Start kids miss playground lost to flooding

By Pauline Liu
Classes at the Delaware Opportunities Inc. Project Headstart Arkville Center began a week late to allow the staff members to clean up after the flood.

When the facility reopened on Tuesday, it looked clean and the staff looked ready, but there was one thing sorely missing. The beloved playground had been wiped out by Tropical Storm Irene. “The playground was our pride and joy,” said Lead Teacher Kyle Holden. 

Parents looked over the torn up field where the playground once stood and shook their heads, while their kids looked on in silence. “There’s nothing left,” said Lisa Esnes of Roxbury as she dropped off her four-year-old daughter, Mackenize Gagliano and her friend, Sage Proctor. “There used to be sandboxes and terrific slides,” she said. “That playground had it all.” Vanessa Young of Halcottsville arrived with her three-year-old son Hunter. She agreed with what Esnes had to say. “They’ll need a swing set, because he just loves swings,” Young said.   

On August 28, about two feet of raging floodwater carried off much of the playground and destroyed the fence around it. The fence has already been replaced and the cost was covered by insurance. According to Holden, insurance will likely cover some of the replacement costs for the new rubber playground surface, but there are many more items that need to be replaced.  “We’ll need to replace the climbers, the shock-absorbing material under the climbers, we’ll need resurfacing and plenty of sand,” said Holden.

If there is a silver lining to this case, it’s the fact that materials purchased over the summer for the playground’s expansion project somehow survived the flood. The staff was planning to add a bike track and a baby barn to the playground. The expansion was called “The Aunt Helen Project.” It was paid for through a bequest from the late Helen Minier of Roxbury, who died last year. “The bike path, thank goodness. pushed against the fence and did not float away,” said Holden. The baby barn also survived the flood.

There is no dollar estimate yet on how much it will take to return the play space back to its old glory, but the staff hopes to have the playground restored by November.  Holden said there is a need for both money and manpower to get the restoration done. On Tuesday, just as the children began arriving, the staff received a donation of toys from local residents as well as a pledge of help from a local contractor. 

Arkville Headstart is a federally funded program run by Delaware Opportunities, which is based in Hamden.  It serves children ages three to five from income eligible families. The facility serves up to 34 children. Since some families have been displaced by the flood, Holden says there is now room for five additional children.