Keswick Christian School unveils 'ginormous' new playground

Keswick Christian School held a ribbon-cutting for its new 3,500-square-foot castle playground Sept. 6. The play structure was designed and built over the summer by Jesse Beckett, the school’s head of grounds and maintenance, his father, and volunteers.

SEMINOLE — Thanks to the ingenuity and dedication of the school’s head of grounds and maintenance, Keswick Christian School unveiled a new playground to Seminole city leaders, parents and its elementary school students Sept. 6.

Just before the end of the last school year, Jesse Beckett, a Seminole resident, began designing a new playground for the school. He made sure to ask his father, Bill, a former general contractor who lives in Bradenton, for help.

His father has helped him design several construction projects, Beckett said, including his former family home in Ohio and a concrete play castle he built while on a missionary trip to Mexico.

“I come up with the ideas, he puts them onto paper for me and I sucked him into helping me build (the playground at Keswick),” Beckett said. “He knew what he was getting into when I asked him to help with this.”

As soon as school let out for the summer, Beckett and his team of volunteers got to work tearing down the old playground and constructing the new one. Around 40 volunteers helped him over two months, completing the project right before the start of the new school year.

“The day the school let out was a half day and they immediately got to work and ripped out the old playground, and when the kids came back in mid-August a new, ginormous fortress was in its place,” said Andrew Maddux, Keswick’s director of advancement.

The school was in dire need of a new playground, Beckett said. It consisted of only two slides and a set of monkey bars, covering only 250 square feet.

“It was small for the size (of the land) it was on,” he said. “I envisioned something a lot bigger that utilized the trees nearby.”

Maddux added, “That whole area needed a facelift and an upgrade to the playground. The equipment was getting pretty dated and wasn’t adequately meeting the needs of the elementary school at Keswick.”

Four large trees growing near the playground area create “a natural canopy,” Beckett said. “We have a great set up with existing oak trees. …I didn’t want to harm or cut them down.”

The new playground boasts a central castle surrounded by four 16-feet octagonal platforms built around each of the trees. These platforms and the castle are linked by suspension bridges, climbing walls and cargo nets.

“You can spend the whole play time in the air if you wanted,” Beckett said.

The playground now covers approximately 3,500 square feet, he added. “It’s quite a difference.”

The new design is inspired by his “pretty active imagination,” he said. “I probably played with too many Legos as a kid.”

Beckett hopes the playground will help Keswick students disconnect from technology and enjoy the outdoors.

“I feel the kids are too plugged in these days with iPads and iPhones and everything else. I wanted to make something that spurs their imagination,” he said.

The playground is also nearly 100 percent ADA accessible, he said. The city’s building department helped him include features that would allow children with different abilities to enjoy the structure, including a transition seat that brings individuals to the second floor of the castle.

“I’m pretty happy that someone in a wheelchair can enjoy this as well,” Beckett said.

Maddux said not many local schools have a playground of this size and scope.

“It’s kind of unique, at least in Pinellas County,” he said. “Now we have this whole Swiss Family Robinson structure. A lot of people (at the Sept. 6 ribbon cutting) said this is something you would see at a big, national theme park. It’s definitely an eye opener when people drive onto our campus.”

Because of insurance restrictions, the playground is only open to Keswick students during school hours.