Parental instincts

Volunteer playground committee is seeing the fruit of their efforts on a substantial challenge.

Every school welcomes the contributions of parent volunteers, but one group of Hillsboro Elemen?tary School parents has taken volunteerism to a whole new level.

What started as a willingness to join a committee to plan fundraisers to pay for some play?ground improvements has turned into a $185,000 project to replace the north playground in its entirety as well as all of the current surfacing on both playgrounds.

?When I initially signed up to be a part of the playground committee, I had no idea of the scope of the project,? said Erin Beavers, who is leading the effort as the committee chair. ?I knew the playground wasn?t in the greatest of shape, but when we took the initial tour I was shocked.?

The designated playgrounds at the elementary school have different age designations. A smaller, hard-surface area between building wings was used mostly by preschool students. Recently it was cleared out by volunteers from the Hills?boro United Methodist Church in preparation of a courtyard.

A second playground, located on the west side of the building, still uses rock?as opposed to rubber chips?as the playing surface that surrounds aging play equipment.

The north playground, used by the older grades, also has aging equipment?but more critical is the dirt playing surface that changes with the weather.

?When it rains, we can?t even use that area,? Princi?pal Evan Yoder said. ?And when it?s dry, there?s a lot of dust.?

The scope of the overall project initially overwhelmed the committee.

?We just didn?t know where to start because we didn?t know what things cost,? said Nicole Suderman, who with Beavers and Treena Lucero, have spearheaded the effort.

?At our initial meeting with a playground consultant, he talked about just the surfacing part of it would be about $80,000,? Suderman recalled. ?So we were looking at possible equipment upgrades that totaled close to $100,000.?

As the committee gathered more information, the scope of the project continued to evolve. The committee now agrees that the best plan?intimidating as the cost may be?is to essentially start from scratch.

?We initially thought we could replace just a few pieces of equipment, but very quickly we learned that once we replaced one piece of equipment, it affected the safety distance for the other pieces,? Beavers said.

?We are kind of grandfathered as far as safety distances because of the age of our playground,? she added. ?But once we start updating, we have to follow the new guidelines. That led to the decision that if we were going to raise money for this playground, we needed to do it right.?

That would include acquiring some play equipment that would be accessible to students with mobility issues. Play equipment is not cheap, the committee discovered.

?We went from a few thousand (dollars) to our current goal of $185,000 to complete the project,? Beavers said

Fundraising efforts

The committee began organizing fundraising efforts soon after it was formed in fall 2013. Their efforts?largely soup suppers, farmers market meals and a carnival?raised around $8,000.

A commendable effort, but, in the words of Yoder, ?We?ll have grandkids in school at the rate we?d get that (project) done.?

In recent months, as news of the project has circulated, the financial picture has changed dramatically.

First, Hillsboro Com?munity Foundation announced in October it would be awarding a grant of $25,750 toward the project through the Marga Ebel Health Fund and the Kansas Health Foundation.

?That was a tremendous boost,? Yoder said at the time of the announcement. ?That?s going to start opening some other doors, I believe, and I think things will move quickly.?

The next door opened last week when the USD 410 Board of Education agreed to designate $55,000 from its capital outlay fund for the project.

All the while, the playground committee has had its eye on a Kansas Depart?ment of Health and Environ?ment grant program that matches funds raised locally with state funding.

If the committee?s grant application is approved, it would put them within $40,000 of the once overwhelming $185,000 goal.

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All or nothing

Beavers said getting close isn?t enough. To begin construction, the committee needs to have all of the funding in hand.

?The big chunk of this $185,000 is for the north playground, and it all has to go in together,? Beavers said at last week?s Chamber of Commerce luncheon. ?We can?t put new equipment back there if we don?t have the surfacing to deal with it. We also can?t do it the opposite way?put surfacing in and then try to piece in equipment later.

?It has to go together all at once.?

In the meantime, the committee is planning to pursue additional grants and is hoping contributions from community businesses and individuals will put them over the top.

Superintendent Steve Noble said some individuals within the community have expressed at least an interest in matching other local contributions dollar for dollar.

?I think there are some people willing to help us close this gap,? Noble said. ?I think they may be waiting to see how large the gap is.?

Still working

Meanwhile, the playground committee is continuing its work?and with continued urgency.

?This project is important to me for a couple of different reasons,? Beavers said. ?The most obvious reason is that I have children playing on this playground. They make due, but to me that?s not enough. They are playing in the dirt.

?We have a wonderful community that takes pride in our schools and our students? accomplishments, but currently we have an elementary school playground that no one can take pride in,? she added.

?If we want to have young families move to our community, we have to have something to show them. If we show them our current playground, they are less likely to want to bring their family here.?

Timeline

In terms of timeline, the best-case scenario for the start of construction would be this summer, but it will take the generosity of local patrons to make that happen.

?My only wish for this project is that it gets completed in a timely manner,? Beavers said. ?No one wants to continue giving money to a cause and not see anything be done.

?We are hopeful that with our continued fundraising efforts and community support we will be able to raise the money needed to do this playground in a way that the kids can be excited about and the community can be proud they supported.