Inclusive playground coming to Peachland Elementary 

An artist's rendering of the proposed inclusive playground at Peachland Elementary School that was approved by the Newhall School District governing board at a recent meeting. Courtesy rendering.
An artist's rendering of the proposed inclusive playground at Peachland Elementary School that was approved by the Newhall School District governing board at a recent meeting. Courtesy rendering.
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Prospective preschool students at Peachland Elementary School will have something new and exciting to look forward to: an inclusive playground, the first of its kind for the Newhall School District.

At last week’s regular meeting, the district’s governing board approved that item as well as a new phone system that would see the district upgrade what has been in place for at least 20 years. 

The playground would be used by students in the Special Day Class Preschool program at Peachland. The total cost of the project would be just under $294,000, and it is estimated to be completed by late June or early July, in time for the start of the 2024-25 school year, according to Arik Avanesyans, assistant superintendent of business services for the district. 

This is the first inclusive playground to be built at a Newhall School District site after Sulphur Springs Elementary received one in 2022 and Valley View Community School got one in 2017. Northbridge Park is set to have its inclusive playground open in early October, a collaboration between the city of Santa Clarita and the Saugus Union School District. 

“This will allow students that have any kind of physical limitations or other types of disabilities to have access to the same kind of play that all of our other students have at the playground,” Newhall district governing board President Suzan Solomon said. “So, very excited about that.” 

The cost of the project is set to come out of the Early Intervention Preschool Grant. Construction is set to begin in early June to coincide with summer break, according to Avanesyans. 

The playground is set to have three separate areas: a shaded set of swings; a shaded merry-go-round with a set of drums and a serenade off to the side; and a shaded play structure with inclusive properties. The merry-go-round has a seat for those who cannot stand on their own and space for a wheelchair to be perched, and the structure has wheelchair accessibility. 

Governing board member Ernesto Smith asked about the features that make the playground inclusive. 

“A lot of it has to do with the ramp, so kids who are in a wheelchair or a walker and can’t get up (on their own),” Avanesyans said. “We also have an inclusive swing with a harness, and then there’s a merry-go-round there also that you could put a wheelchair on.” 

Governing board member Donna Robert asked how safe the merry-go-round would be, with Avanesyans saying his experience is that it is meant to slow down for safety. 

“When I take my kids to the park, I try to push them fast as I can, but they’re limited,” Avanesyans said. 

Upgrading phone system 

Upgrading technology sometimes takes some time, and Newhall School District officials are hoping to have a state-of-the-art phone system in time for the next school year. The current phone system used by the district has been in use for at least 20 years, according to Ken McGaffee, director of technology services for the district. 

“We were looking at our current phone system, and we’re estimating it to be around 20-ish years old, at least,” McGaffee said. “So, it’s had a good life. We’ve gotten a lot of utility out of it.” 

According to Avanesyans, the current phone system, run by AT&T, is outdated and cannot be easily fixed. He used an example of needing to have someone from Texas fly out to Santa Clarita to have a phone line fixed. 

The new system, which is set to go out to bid to determine the contractor, would be a voice over internet protocol system. It would have modern features such as caller ID, improved voicemail access with email integration and built-in directories, according to the meeting’s agenda. 

AT&T announced its intention in 2023 to drop landline service in the area, and for nearly all of California, citing a lack of demand for “plain old telephone service.” The company reported the number of lines it operates has plummeted by about 89% from 2000 to 2021. 

State Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, sent a letter last month to the California Public Utilities Commission urging the agency to not grant AT&T’s application to remove the company’s obligation under California law to provide traditional landline phone service, saying senior citizens and residents living in rural and mountain communities rely on that service. 

However that process shakes out, the Newhall School District is looking to improve its phone system, and McGaffee is hopeful that the new system would be installed over the summer, depending on how the bidding process plays out. He added that his plan would be to have both the new system and the old system in place to begin with before the old system is eventually removed. 

Part of the funding for the new system would come from E-Rate funding, though the amount of approximately $594,000 is less than originally anticipated. The governing board approved the total project cost, including contingency, of $1.6 million. That includes the district shelling out just over $1 million should the entire contingency be used, an increase to the estimated $802,000 that was previously approved for such a project. 

“We’ve been talking about this for a couple of decades,” Solomon said. “So, I’m glad AT&T is forcing us to have to do something we’ve been talking about. It takes a lot of money to do it, so that’s the critical factor.” 

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