Jacob Butler, 3, left, Mia Grennen, 5, and Ethan Grennen, 3, receive a push recently from Angela Grennen as the children ride the merry-go-round at McCall’s Park in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

AUGUSTA — The city’s playgrounds are set to offer a new program this summer that will provide activities for Augusta youths, many of whom have been isolated at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Back to the Future Playground Program, approved last week by the City Council, is scheduled to begin July 6 and run through Aug. 21. It will run weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., except on rainy days.

The seven-week program is meant to help fill the void in Augusta children’s lives caused by cancellation of other activities, which so far has included in-person school classroom lessons, some summer camps, most fairs and many sporting events, and a decision to not open the city’s swimming pools or Bicentennial Nature Park this year due to concerns about spreading the coronavirus.

The free program is planned for Williams Park, McCall’s Park, Calumet Park, Lincoln Elementary School playground and Cunningham Park.

It seeks to serve children ages 6 through 12, with a focus on providing outdoor activities that can be enjoyed while social distancing and following other pandemic-related safety guidelines.

“It’s going to be a really good summer for these kids,” Mayor David Rollins said just before city councilors voted unanimously to create the program.

The sites at playgrounds in neighborhood parks will be overseen by high school- and college-age workers supervised by city employees. Breakfast and lunch will be provided to participants through an existing arrangement with the Augusta Schools food program.

Rollins said it would be similar to a program the city had at its playgrounds years ago.

Community Services Director Leif Dahlin said the program is expected to cost about $58,000. About $52,000 of that would come from funds that would have paid for operation of city pools. He said the rest of the money could come from other accounts with funds that are not expected to be used due to pandemic-related changes, and one week’s worth of wages could come from next year’s proposed budget.

Dahlin said plans are to have space in the program for at least 120 children to take part at any one time.

At-Large City Councilor Darek Grant asked Dahlin to keep track of how many kids sign up — which must be done through the city’s Recreation Department — because he believes either the city or community members may be willing to pick up the cost of expanding the program so children who wish to take part are not turned away.

“It would be a shame to think that some wouldn’t be able to participate,” Grant said.

Dahlin said Kennebec Valley United Way officials have offered to help with resources for the program, and a leader of the Children’s Discovery Museum, which has a mobile museum, has expressed interest in working with the city to help youths this summer.

At-Large City Councilor Marci Alexander said an area group that makes face masks is going to stitch 200 for children in the summer program to use.

She said if the pandemic worsens and the in-person program need be scaled back, members of the staff could come up with activities for children to do at home.

Rollins said the city’s effort to create programming to replace some of what local youths are unable to do this summer sprung from a conversation he had with William Burney, former Augusta mayor and school board chairman. Rollins said Burney “challenged us with, ‘What are you going to do for the kids?’”

Dahlin said there should be strong interest in the summer program.

“I’m tingling because of the excitement I have that we’re going to do something with, and for, our kids this summer,” he said. “I believe we’ve got the human, fiscal and physical resources to make this happen.”

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