Allan Slicer, a first-grader who lives at Ledgewood Heights, intently works at the Art in the Neighborhood table during the May 16 grand opening party for the new playground at the housing complex.
Randolph T. Holhut/The Commons
Allan Slicer, a first-grader who lives at Ledgewood Heights, intently works at the Art in the Neighborhood table during the May 16 grand opening party for the new playground at the housing complex.

A vital project for kids, an investment in their future

Ledgewood Heights opens new playground as an essential community resource

BRATTLEBORO-The more than 80 children who live at Ledgewood Heights, a 41-unit neighborhood for low- and moderate-income families run by Brattleboro Housing Partnerships (BHP), now have a new state-of-the-art playground.

On May 16, BHP celebrated that milestone with a grand opening party that featured ice cream, face painting, and lots of smiles and laughter.

The playground was the culmination of several years of work, with some help from an unexpected source.

The original playground was installed in 1982, when Ledgewood Heights was built. Over the years, it deteriorated, and finally, in 2020, it had to be removed for safety reasons.

That left the kids at Ledgewood with little space for safe outdoor activities. BHP leadership quickly realized that building a new playground was a complex project that required much thought and planning, and they had few resources to do it.

In the summer of 2022, the replacement of the playground became a collective priority, according to BHP staff. Ledgewood's youth residents took the lead in identifying the most important activities for them, including resources for older youth such as climbing structures.

BHP said that the planning group diligently researched playground companies and chose Ultiplay.

The Massachusetts-based firm "worked hand in hand with us, patiently identifying the equipment that would meet the youth residents' needs, be safe, and be of good quality," according to a news release.

Improvements included a large pavilion, "designed to offer community meals and resident programs, including the very popular Art in the Neighborhood program, during the nicer weather."

Breaking the budget

After getting an estimate of $116,000 for full site repair, including work to the concrete and fencing, BHP realized its budget could not support the project.

The housing partnership turned to a nonprofit organization, Brattleboro Housing Opportunities, Inc., to raise money for resident programming, began to reach out to funders, and made the decision to submit the playground project for the annual Vital Projects list compiled by the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation (BDCC).

The top-10 list becomes part of the Southern Vermont Zone Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS), a federally-approved five-year action plan for growing the regional economy.

The committee putting together the 2023 list reviewed a record-breaking 97 projects from municipalities, businesses, and nonprofit organizations across Bennington and Windham counties.

In BHP's application for inclusion, the organization acknowledged that "it may seem that a federal agency should have the capital for a project like this, but the reality is that we do not."

"Residents' rent is 30% of their income (and all are very low-income). After capital expenses, utilities, maintenance, etc., there is little left. Recently, we also incurred funding for replacement housing for flooded Melrose Terrace and creating the flood mitigation area. Our project is simply to fund and build a playground for the children."

On the surface, a playground would not seem to be a driver of economic activity. Project leaders consider it an investment in the future economic health of the community and the future physical and mental health of its residents.

"Surveys show that a lot of kids don't think they matter to their communities, and that only increases as they enter high school," review committee member James Salerno of Hale Mountain Research of Bennington said in a news release last fall.

"The Ledgewood Heights playground is a critical youth project with an imminent funding gap," he wrote. "Investing in youth will help keep them here and engaged in the community over the long term."

Most funding in hand

Getting on the Vital Projects list proved to be a big boost for the playground project. As of this month, $90,375 has come from a variety of sources, including $20,000 from the Thomas Thompson Trust and $35,000 from the Henderson Foundation.

Another $25,000 Vermont Recreational Facilities grant from the state Agency of Administration's Buildings and General Services department is earmarked for a Berliner - a hybrid climber/slide - for the playground.

With most of the project's funding in hand, BHP said it was confident enough to order the equipment and make plans for its installation. On May 3, many volunteers worked with Ultiplay to complete that work.

Still to come are two new picnic tables, which have been ordered. Courts for hopscotch, four square, and other sidewalk activities will be painted on the remaining asphalt.

BHP is also pursuing other grants to finish paying for the new playground, including an application to AARP Vermont through its Community Challenge Grants, citing the proximity of the playground to Red Clover Commons and how it will help provide outdoor space for intergenerational events and activities.

Additional donations for the Ledgewood Heights playground project can be sent to Brattleboro Housing Opportunities, Inc., care of Brattleboro Housing Partnerships, P.O. Box 2275 Brattleboro, VT 05303.

This News item by Randolph T. Holhut was written for The Commons.

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