By Christopher Roberson
Brown Elementary School is well on its way to getting a new playground following the Randi Leménager Memorial Gala, which was held on March 10 at the Danversport Yacht Club. Playground Committee Chairman Erin Thorpe, a special education teacher at Brown, said approximately $21,000 was raised during the event.
At a cost of $300,000, the playground will be designed to be accessible for students with disabilities. It will feature five hexagonal decks with wheelchair ramps on either side. There will also be 33 activities, 24 of which will be wheelchair-friendly. For Brown’s older students, the playground will have two eight-foot towers and spiral slides.
During the gala, Thorpe said the school’s current playground does not have wheelchair-accessible ramps, sensory equipment and other items that are essential for special needs students. Of the 362 students enrolled at Brown, 89 of them have been diagnosed with a disability.
Thorpe said an all-inclusive playground had been a top priority for Randi Leménager, a summer school teacher at Brown who, at the age of 22, passed away suddenly in August 2017. “In Randi’s world there was no reason for exclusion,” said Thorpe. “She is always with us and she is still changing the world.”
Thorpe was thrilled to find that more than 400 residents and elected officials came out to support the cause. “I’m mostly overwhelmed to be up here and know that everyone is here for the same reason; our dream is becoming a reality,” she said, adding that building an all-inclusive playground “seemed impossible” one year ago.
Playground Committee Vice Chairman Haley Guarino thanked Thorpe for her leadership on the committee. “Erin, you are truly selfless and we are forever grateful,” she said.
Mayor Edward Bettencourt pledged his support for the project on behalf of the city. “The City of Peabody is going to step up and make this happen,” he said. “This is something special.”
Speaking about his childhood, Bettencourt touted the benefits of having playgrounds. “I grew up here; I played with my friends and I stayed out of trouble,” he said.
Bettencourt also said Peabody is one of only 10 communities in the country to be named a Playful City. “We want to be a playful city for everyone,” he said. “There are so many wonderful things happening in our community, and that’s what’s happening at the Brown School.”