Unfortunately, the school has been less successful applying the same goal to a key component of its learning facility.
“The playground hasn’t changed a lot since I taught here in 1983 to 1991,” Principal Evan Yoder said.
With a few exceptions, the changes that have occurred at the playground haven’t necessarily improved the situation.
With the addition of a preschool program a couple of years ago, the playground designated for kindergartners and first-graders is undersized. Children play on a surface of loose rock, and their sand-pile area gets washed out by drainage water after heavy rains.
“It’s an elevated area so the little kids kind of have to scale (a small) wall to get up to the rock area,” Yoder said. “We have some slides that go out, but they’re not very high slides because you get to the edge of the wall (when kids slide down them).
“The rocks get thrown out, and there’s water around all the time during the wet season—plus, the low area of the cement fills with water,” he added.
“It’s just not a good place. There’s not an awful lot we can do about that either. We can’t extend (the playground) past the alley.”
Yoder said some parents have stepped up to offer their assistance. One father replaced boards on the teeter-totter that were in “rough shape,” and a church group volunteered to paint some of the primary equipment.
A worse situation
But the play area designated for second- through fifth-graders is much worse. It is home to swings, a merry-go-round and other play equipment.
“That stuff disintegrates,” Yoder said of the mulch. “If we get a heavy rain, it goes right off that roof on the north, into the mulch and just washes it right out into that (adjacent) field.”
Yoder said it is expensive to keep the area covered with the mulch—$3,000 to $4,000 for each of the two semi-loads the area requires.
“Then, we have to get someone to haul it in there and smooth it out because we can’t back a semi into that area,” Yoder said.
When HES started the new school year last Thursday, little mulch was visible. The area had become a seedbed for weeds, and under the swings and around the merry-go-round were worn depressions that created a natural water trap when a medium mid-day rain fell on Friday.
Because of the rain, students weren’t allowed in the area.
“In wet weather we can’t put kids on it because the kids’ shoes turn black—and it really needs to be all dug out to a deep level,” Yoder said. “If we can fill it back in with mulch, that would be good—but then we still have the same issue every few years.”
Yoder said students still enjoy the traditional equipment when the ground is dry enough to play on them.
“What the kids have is what they’ve always had— but it’s recess,” he said. “It doesn’t matter a lot to them.”
Adults are another story.
“When adults see they’re playing in dust, or it’s muddy and the custodians have to clean that mess up, or they’re playing on concrete and it’s tight—so there’s more potential for accidents—and our handicapped kids can’t get on any of the equipment, they see the need—and our parents do, too.”
Yoder said the playground situation doesn’t make a positive impression on new, young families.
“I don’t mind too much showing (parents) where the primary kids play because that looks like a pretty decent surface—except for the rocks,” he said. “But you go back (where the older students play) and it doesn’t look very inviting. Heaven forbid that I take them back there when it’s muddy.”
Yoder said when he visits other schools, the playground shapes his impression of the school itself.
“To me, it’s a progressive-looking school when the playground looks nice,” he said. “If it’s old and beaten down, you think, wow, this is a dying entity.”
Yoder said what the HES site council would like to do is replace the rock and mulch surfaces with a concrete base covered either by a rubberized or turf-like material.
“We’ve looked at both and they’re both very expensive,” Yoder said. “And if we wanted to put in any new equipment, we’d need to do it before we pour the cement.”
Yoder estimated it would take $10,000 “for anything a kid would want to ride on.”
To pour a concrete playground surface and replace some equipment would require as much as $70,000, he estimated.
A committee of parents was formed at the start of the 2013-14 school year to begin fundraising. Their efforts have helped raise about $8,000 toward the project, Yoder said.
This Friday, the committee is hosting a “Back to School Carnival” from 6-8 p.m. Friday in the 4-H Building on the Marion County Fairgrounds.
The evening will include concessions, various games and activities as well as prize giveaways. The public is encouraged to participate.
“Maybe we’ll get a couple of thousand (dollars) from the carnival,” Yoder said. “We got some great donations, the businesses have been very generous.”
But the HES principal admitted the financial challenge is huge, especially in a time of reduced funding for schools.
“(We) want to apply for some grants,” Yoder said. “There are some great ones. I know the city got one for (the new equipment) in Memorial Park. We’re pursuing them. Hopefully, we can get a nice chunk from that.”
It will take patience and persistence, he said.
“I’m hoping if we can continue to get closer to whatever the magic number is where people say, wow, they’ve raised a decent amount of money, maybe a group or some individuals will help us get it done.”