The new playground to be constructed at Newman Elementary School could be getting both a name and a $100,000 donation, thanks to a local family that is looking to honor one of their own.
The family of Phil Robey has promised a significant donation for the project if the Needham School Committee agrees to name the finished playground in Robey’s honor, according to Mary Kelley, a member of the Support the Newman Playground organization. The group has been working to raise $250,000 by the end of June so they can secure a contractor for the summer and have the playground restored by the time kids return to school in the fall.
The playground equipment is being torn down as part of the ongoing Newman renovations. The town will fund the leveling and preparation of the land as part of the building project. But, as is customary, it is up to members of the community to raise the necessary funds to purchase and install playground equipment.
Though $250,000 may seem like a lot of money for a children's playground, Kelley said it is a reasonable goal for the type of site needed. The play area will be accessible to all students and meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, and it will serve a school that has one of the largest populations of any single elementary school in Massachusetts.
Kelley said the Support the Newman Playground group is about a quarter of the way toward its $250,000 goal—thanks in part to a St. Patrick’s Day fundraiser held in March and other donations picked up along the way. But the $100,000 donation proposed by the Kelly Robey Connelly family would help considerably in their efforts.
“Phil Robey’s community service to Needham is immeasurable. The enormously generous offer by his family would support the cause beyond that of any other donation or fundraising effort,” Kelley wrote in a letter sent to the School Committee on April 26 and read aloud at the committee’s meeting on May 1. “By voting to approve this legacy naming and accepting these substantial funds, Newman Elementary School would have a playground for its students and the Needham community in 2012 in honor of a man who has been and is an exemplary citizen of the Needham community, one we are so fortunate to have.”
The Kelly Robey Connelly family has proposed that the playground be named the “Philip V. Robey Playground.” According to district policy, the name must be approved by a vote of the School Committee.
Robey has lived in Needham all his life, for 65 years, and “has given countless hours of his time and energy to the Needham community,” Kelley wrote in her letter.
Robey's contributions include more than 20 years as elected commissioner of Park and Recreation, more than 15 years as board member of the Charles River Center, 30 years coaching Needham Little League, 10 years as Little League president, 20 years as a member of the Needham Exchange Club and 20 years as a Town Meeting member, according to Kelley.
Though the School Committee held off on voting on the proposal until its May 15 meeting, several members voiced strong support of the plan.
“Phil’s a terrific human being and has contributed so much to so many, young and old, in this town,” board member Joseph Barnes said.
Michael Greis said Robey was “an amazing person” who had touched many lives in town and that he was “thrilled” with the proposal and the generosity of the Kelly Robey Connelly family.
Needham Public Schools Superintendent Dan Gutekanst said the Newman renovation is “on target” and that work on the building is essentially finished. This summer, the focus will be on moving classrooms from the modular units currently located on the site back into the school building. There also will be “significant activity” on the site throughout the summer, with much of the surface areas—including the parking lot, driveways, sidewalks, steps, tennis courts and playground area—being torn up and replaced.
The Support the Newman Playground committee’s goal is to have fundraising wrapped up by the end of June so they can select equipment and have a vendor install it, likely starting by Sept. 1 once the land has been prepared.
The goal is to have the playground ready shortly after school opens for the 2012-13 academic year on Sept. 5.
The community has the opportunity to weigh in on the School Committee’s decision on naming the playground. Residents may submit their comments by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contribute donations to the Support the Newman Playground cause or learn more about their efforts, visit newmanplayground.org.