Tatem Elementary School unveils revamped playground

ADA-compliant space debuts after months of construction.

Three groups collaborated to build a new, handicapped-accessible playground at Tatem Elementary School: the J. Fithian Tatem PTA, Haddonfield Educational Trust and Haddonfield School District. At the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sept. 5 were, from left, Assistant Superintendent Chuck Klaus, Board of Education vice president Maureen Eyles, board members Justin Benford and David Seidell, HSD Assistant Business Administrator Mike Catalano, Mayor Neal Rochford, board members Jamie Grookett and Heather Paoli, board president Adam Sangillo, Borough Commissioner Bob Marshall, Tatem Principal Valerie Cline, HSD Director of Facilities Tim McFerren, Ron Schwenke design architect for LAN Associates, Tatem PTA past president Jackie Tomasso Miller, HET President Dave Larkin, current Tatem PTA President Cheryl Tarditi and Tatem PTA member Rea Morris.

On Sept. 5 – just two days after the official start to the 2019-20 academic year – a gaggle of enthusiastic students, members of the J.F. Tatem community, as well as borough leaders and district administrators, gathered to officially dedicate a new playground behind the school. 

A combined effort between the Tatem Parent-Teacher Association, Haddonfield School District and its board of education, the 4,100 square-foot ADA-compliant play space was created thanks to LAN Associates, an engineering firm with a footprint in Philadelphia and New Jersey. It features monkey bars, slides, ample spaces to explore, and a cushy landing surface for more adventurous and enthusiastic children. 

“It was such a massive undertaking, and to see it complete is just amazing. To see everyone happily playing. It was so cute to have so many of our students and their families join us tonight. I couldn’t be prouder,” said Valerie Cline, Tatem’s principal.

“Stepping in last year, and not really knowing what was planned, and then seeing the drawings and watching, step by step as it all unfolded, was just an incredible experience. The Tatem PTA is, hands down, the strongest, most involved PTA and we’re so fortunate they were so instrumental in getting this for our students.”

Construction began in earnest last June, just after the conclusion of last school year, and the project was completed in just over two months at a cost of approximately $280,000, according to Michael Catalano, assistant business administrator for the district.

Included in that total was more than $130,000 allotted toward playground construction, nearly $72,000 on playground equipment, including benches and trash receptacles, and more than $52,000 dedicated to poured-in-place surfacing. 

In July, the board of education approved a donation from Tatem’s PTA of $39,000 and one from the Haddonfield Educational Trust in the amount of $27,000 toward completion of the playground complex. 

“I am so excited that the playground has finally been completed. It really is gratifying to know that my daughter and her brothers will have the next several years to play here. As far as how it looks, you couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful playground. The kids all look thrilled and they’re going to spend many happy days enjoying themselves,” said Jackie Tomasso Miller, past PTA president for Tatem.

No one looked happier to try out the new equipment than first-grader Ellie Hewot, who normally requires the use of a wheelchair, but was able to enjoy the various structures thanks to the help of her parents. 

“It’s going to be here forever, part of the school and part of the culture now. We’re just so pleased to have the first ADA-compliant playground, so that all students, all children, have a place to play in the community,” Cline said.