Lower School Playground Renovation Highlights the Importance of Community


The New Renovated Lower School Playground Photo Credits: Kim Kerscher

The sound of laughter and giggles from students playing Fish out of Water and Gravel are memories that I recall from my time on the Lower School Playground. It just was like yesterday, when I grasped the cold metal monkey bars until my fingers turned bright red and leaped off the swings to touch the sky. As I think of the many stories that took place on the Lower School Playground, a new chapter has begun with the recent renovations.  And like many stories about Westridge, this is one that highlights the importance of the community.

Even if the Westridge community is not together in person, the Westridge Lower School Playground renovation shows how creative ideas in the design of the playground were the result of collaboration across many different parties. Not only did Westridge students contribute to the playground design, but also parents and even grandparents. Felicia Johnson, the Director of Facilities, explained how the playground renovation included input from many people in the Westridge community. “Students were asked what kind of playthings would catch their attention, faculty were asked, and then, of course, Dr. Kelly gave me all her input too. A couple of parents came through with ideas and grandmas and grandpas. So, it was just like Westridge. It was a whole group idea and joining of all the minds.”

One of the two Gaga ball pits on the Lower School Playground
Photo Credits: Kim Kerscher

Johnson also explained how these ideas for the playground were not just her ideas, but also many different ideas from the Westridge community. “For most big projects, it actually starts a year or longer in advance. And so the idea was there to move forward. And it takes a lot of time for the information gathering, so it just wasn’t my idea, it’s not my playground. So it has to be interesting, and what students want and what students think is fun and exciting.”

The new playground is dedicated to Mary Tuck, former Lower and Middle School Director. Mrs. Tuck retired in 2019 after 19 years at Westridge. The playground also honors the late Carol Van Zalingen, former Lower and Middle School Dean of Student Support. 

Ms. Van Zalingen, or Ms. V, as she was known by students, had also been an English teacher prior to becoming dean. The deck under the tree is a space where students can be reminded of Ms. V and her love for reading and books. “She was the kind of person who didn’t like her picture taken but loved to read,” Johnson explained. “So, under the camphor tree, along with the deck, there’s a bench and there’s going to be some big soft cushiony chairs out there for anyone who just wants to sit and enjoy that space. So, in my mind, I call it Ms. V’s tree. That part of [the playground] is dedicated to her.”   

Camphor Tree with the New Deck with cushiony pillows and bean bags built-in memory of late Carol Van Zalingen, former Lower and Middle School Dean of Student Support.
Photo Credits: Kim Kerscher

New additions to the Lower School playground include extra swings, a rock climbing wall, a zip line, Gaga ball pits, and outdoor table tennis tables with accessories as paddles, extra balls, and extra nets. A newly painted basketball court was also added. The asphalt has been removed and the cracks on the court repaired. The court has also been painted vibrant green.

New Rock Climbing Wall on the Lower School Playground.
Photo Credits: Kim Kerscher
The new zipline on the Lower School Playground with the 100% recyclable mulch on the ground.
Photo Credits: Kim Kerscher

To make the playground even better, the wood chips in the playground were replaced with 100% recyclable mulch. The wood chips were replaced with tiny pieces of rubber, which are softer to land on and eco friendly. “All the wood chips are gone. So there are tiny pieces of rubber, which are softer to land on. And those are the hundred percent recycled eco-friendly pieces that are more cushiony than landing on wood with potential splinters,” said Johnson.