Construction of Montclair Community Pre-K’s “natural playground” is expected to begin in early summer.

Upon completion it will contain six different zones with activity centers: an edible garden, a discovery garden, an exploration yard, a performance grove, an adventure playscape and an artists’ nook. A natural playground includes features such as trees, rocks and other natural objects in addition to conventional playground equipment.

The project is being funded largely through donations from the general public. Pre-K officials said they are about halfway to its fundraising goal for the phase one of $500,000.

The first phase of construction is expected to be done by the time school resumes in the fall.

That phase includes site preparation, grading, drainage and re-surfacing, and the turf installation for the Adventure Playscape, the new equipment for that area and the All Access Pathway, said executive director Amy Dorr.

The Pre-K has contracted with Learning Landscapes, an Oregon-based company that builds nature-based playgrounds and learning gardens for schools, child care centers and children’s hospitals.

The edible garden will include a new garden bed, a composting site and an outdoor kitchen. The exploration yard will include an area for digging, and a spot where children can build forts from installed platforms, posts and simple machines. The discovery garden will be the new site of the school’s gazebo, and will also include a playhouse, a “four seasons garden” with birdhouses and a play boat. The performance grove will include an existing outdoor performance stage, as well as musical instruments designed for outdoor use. The artists’ nook will include a storage cabinet for art supplies, art panels and a “weaving wall.” And the adventure playscape will include a seesaw, swings, a giant wooden play train and a concrete tricycle track for children learning to ride, according to the plans.

The school is hoping to find more sponsors and volunteer labor to help complete the other areas and smaller projects this summer and fall.

“We are collaborating with several local organizations and our community partners to build the Artist's Nook, the Performance Grove, the Exploration Yard and the Discovery Garden. The final cost of the project will depend greatly on the amount of volunteer services and donated materials we gather from the community and local businesses,” Dorr said.

The existing playground is just over 20 years old, and was installed when the Pre-K opened in 1997. The playground is still in good condition and is inspected regularly, but the Pre-K staff and directors decided that it was in need of an upgrade due to significant wear and tear.