Before they head off to middle school this fall, the former fifth-graders at Robert Moton Elementary School want to leave it with a new playground.
The students spent the past year leading several fund-raising projects at their Westminster school and have raised about $7,000. They finished the year with a letter-writing campaign, seeking donations from county officials and businesses.
To show the community how badly a new playground is needed, the students are holding an open house tomorrow.
"The old playground is not safe anymore," said Joseph Scotto, 11. "I want a new one to give the little kids the same advantages we had when we played there."
One of the little kids will be his 5-year-old brother Tommy. Joseph also wants handicapped-accessible equipment so "kids in wheelchairs don't have to just sit there and watch everybody."
Joseph's sister, Maria, 16, uses a wheelchair and could not take advantage of the 20-year-old playground. The new structure will have a ramp to the play stations.
"He has thought a lot about this playground," said his mother, Chris Scotto. "He used to always tell me: 'Mom, it's not fair some kids can't get on.' It is really nice of him to help out with this."
For now, the school maintenance crew carefully monitors the equipment, particularly the wooden tot lot.
"It is not condemned, but we don't allow kids on there," said Brent Whalen, a fifth-grade teacher. "Splinters are almost guaranteed."
Jeff Degitz, bureau chief for the county Department of Recreation and Parks, said the county no longer purchases wooden equipment.
"Wood does not hold up as well, is more prone to vandalism and attracts bees," Degitz said. "Metal and vinyl-coated equipment is marginally more expensive, but we save on maintenance."
Whalen has his eye on a design from Commercial Play Systems, based in Farmington, Mo.
With nearly 1,500 square feet, the structure could provide about 50 children at a time with 24 different activities.
The basic structure would cost about $20,000. Options, which could be phased in, would add about $6,000 to the cost.
The school Parent Teacher Organization has donated $6,000. Coupled with the students' money, about half the necessary funds have been raised. Whalen is hoping the county will provide the rest.
"These kids really want to leave a legacy," Whalen said. "They are enthused and want to create this opportunity for younger kids."
His class of 20 drafted the wording of the request for donations.
With mailing labels from the county Chamber of Commerce, they sent out 107 letters explaining their plight.
"By sponsoring our playground, it would show how you care about the community," the letter said.
The children also offered free advertising in the school newsletter and a mention at the dedication ceremony to any businesses that contributed.
One letter reached the County Commissioners, who have forwarded it to the county Department of Recreation and Parks for funding through its Self-Help Program. Requests for those funds are made through various recreation councils.
Robert Moton School applied last spring, but other projects took precedence. The school may have another chance in September. About $60,000 remains in the project fund.
"The turndowns have nothing to do with the merits of the projects," said Degitz.
"There just is not enough money to go around."
Applications are limited to $20,000, and a school must raise at least one-third of the cost of its project.
Joseph said he does not plan to stop at the tot lot. He would like to see improvements to the school's two other play areas. He can walk to Robert Moton from his home in Westminster and plans to check on the progress of his class project.
Open house will be at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the school, 1413 Washington Road, Westminster. Information: 410-751-3610.
Pub Date: 7/21/97