There’s nothing wrong with nostalgia, but when a school’s playground hasn’t been significantly updated since the 1950s, it’s time for an upgrade.
“Like our school, the playground our students have access to was built in the ‘50s, and not in the best shape,” said Loren Huwa, principal of South Lakewood Elementary. “Over the past seven years, we’ve been trying to get an update program off the ground, but it never worked out.”
But under the leadership of Tina Klismith and the rest of the school’s Parent-Teacher Association (PTA), 2017 may finally be the year.
“I’m just stubborn enough to not give up on the process,” Klismith said. “I quickly filled up a binder with contacts and steps it was going to take to get anything done on the project.”
The elementary school, 8425 W. 1st Ave., received a $110,000 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) as part of its School Yard Initiative program to make improvements to the playground. The cost for the project will be around $300,000.
“There are lots of schoolyards that serve as the center of recreation, not just for the school, but for the neighborhood and community,” said Jackie Miller, Youth Initiatives Director with GOCO. “The aim of our School Yard Initiative program is to transform these areas into vibrant places to play and learn.”
Schools apply for the School Yard grants with their local governments, and the yards must be designed, at least in part, by students. This approach ensures the finished product reflects the hopes of the users.
“Some of the most fun we had during the project was getting input from our students on what they wanted,” Klismith said. “We asked our students to imagine their dream playground — name it and suggest what they want to see.”
South Lakewood serves about 520 students in kindergarten through sixth grade, and it’s becoming increasingly well-known for catering to students on the autism spectrum. To reflect this, the finished design has spaces where students escape from all the stimulation that comes with a busy playground.
“Part of the design also makes the area not just a playground, but an outdoor learning classroom,” Klismith said. “Down the road, we’re looking at possibly starting a community garden.”
Ward 1 councilman Charley Able was a big supporter of the project.
“I’ve been pushing the project whenever I had the opportunity,” Able said. “The commitment from the PTA and school has just been amazing.”
The school still needs to raise money for the playground, and is accepting donations and hosting various fundraising events. Since the community will be free to use the area when school is out, the hope is the community will get out and support the project.
“I’m really excited about doing this for our students,” Huwa said. “We’ve transformed the inside of our school with technology, and now we want to bring the outside up to date.”