Surfaces: wood chips, sand.
I attended Northlea for grades 7 and 8, but I have no recollection of whether the school had any play structures at the time.
This is probably the result of any or all of the following factors: a) the school was undergoing massive renovations, and portables took up much of the outdoor space; b) I had just turned 12, and might have thought that playgrounds were for “little kids;” c) there might not have been any play structures for older students anyway.
Most of the outdoor play I remember from those two awkward years was something called “Salad” – which we pronounced with an accent on the second syllable, as if it were a French word. In this quintessentially adolescent game, a crushed pop can was kicked around among a large group of kids. If the pop can got kicked through your legs, you had to run like hell to a designated safe spot. On your way there, everyone else had license to kick and punch you as much as they wanted. Whether the teachers noticed us whaling on each other I don’t know, but they certainly never intervened.
I dreaded this game, but I played it because…well, that’s what everyone did. And, as previously mentioned, there weren’t too many other options, which brings me to my point: play equipment for middle-school kids is important.
Luckily, modern-day Northlea does seem to have equipment for the variety of ages that the school educates – kindergarten to grade 8.
There are four distinct play areas. Two are in front, on the Rumsey Road side, and are clearly for younger kids. Two Henderson climbers, one small and one medium-sized, accompany a wooden train and some wooden posts for climbing. There’s a tactile play area that appears to be for kindergarteners, including a kitchen-esque play area with sinks.
Behind the school are two more areas. One is a 20-year-old Henderson metal climber that’s seen a lot of use but still has some good elements, and the other looks to be much more recent, including a nice Berliner Seilfabrik rope climber that my kids immediately gravitated towards. There’s also a large artificial turf field for those who travel with soccer balls in tow.
While the equipment is decent, there’s not much else to make Northlea a top-tier school playground; no swings or shaded areas like at Deer Park, no interesting terrain like at Withrow. And with the outstanding Trace Manes Park nearby, there’s really no reason to play here if you’re in the Leaside area…unless, of course, you want to reminisce about kicking around a crushed pop can and being pummelled by your “friends.”
Ah, middle school. Good times.