Kids find lots of favorites on new playground set
Posted 9/28/11 (Wed)
Recess rocks . . . Recess took on a whole new meaning for elementary
students at Kenmare High School last week after parent volunteers
finished assembling new playground equipment. Sixth grade students,
above, pull themselves around the C-ladder. Kenmare Veteran's Club,
Inc. made a $10,000 donation toward the project, with
the estimated $40,000 balance covered by the school district.
By Caroline Downs
The poles are set, the bolts are tightened, and the safety stickers are secured.
And now the new playground equipment set up on the east side of Kenmare High School for the older elementary students is finally ready for kids.
None too soon, either, as the sixth graders monitored the progress of volunteers who worked about two weeks on the project. Student Tucker Ellsworth’s father Craig was one of those volunteers, so Tucker’s friends demanded reports. “It was hard to wait,” said Maverick Hess, “especially when Tucker kept saying it was done, but it wasn’t yet!”
Hess was making up for the wait on Monday as he slid down the Sidewinder, his favorite part of the new equipment so far. “It’s fun!” he said.
His classmate Eric Burtch preferred the Spider Web climber, while Devin Radomski liked riding along the track line. The rest of the sixth grade class swarmed over various parts of the equipment.
“This whole entire thing is pretty awesome,” added Montana Justice, who also admitted to enjoying the track line. “I’ve never played on anything like this!”
A long time coming
That sort of response is music to parent Tahnee King’s ears, after working more than a year to bring the project to life. “It’s been a long time coming,” she said. “The kids are so excited. Finally, for them, recess is not just a swing and a football.”
A regular playground was not considered essential when the new high school was opened in 1970. Enrollment trends in the Kenmare school district have forced the fourth, fifth and sixth grade classes to move to the secondary building in the past few years, but no accommodations were made for age-appropriate playground equipment. Occasionally the subject would come up among administrators and school board members, but no action was ever initiated.
However, King attended the 2010 Roughrider Conference, with several Kenmare district employees, where she learned about the organization’s focus on health and wellness for schools. The Kenmare district representatives were required to develop an action plan after the conference, so King brainstormed ways to improve the playground equipment at the high school.
She requested a meeting with Superintendent Duane Mueller and former KHS principal Scott Faul to describe her plan. “I asked them how we could get started,” she said. “We were told to form a committee and research different playgrounds.”
King said six parents joined the committee, and they studied material about school playgrounds provided by Mueller. “We also each took a look at playgrounds in different towns around,” she added. “I went to Berthold and discussed what had been important in their playground project.”
The group compared playgrounds and notes and equipment options and chose to work with Larry Grondahl of Dakota Fence in Williston. “He gave us a list of the playgrounds they’d done in North Dakota,” said King, “and all the equipment is made in Minnesota. The quality of the equipment is so nice.”
Grondahl discussed pictures, plans, warranties and cost estimates with the group. “Then we picked out what we thought would be the components to have,” King said. “If you go on this thing, it’s a workout. There are things for balance, for climbing, for jumping. It will get the kids moving!”
With a plan in place, King said the parents met again with Superintendent Mueller to select a potential site for the equipment and discuss the $50,000 budget. The group also met with the school board Building Committee about the project. “We knew this was important,” said King. “What kids eat and how much they exercise totally affects how they learn.”
The school board was busy with the renovation projects at the elementary and high school buildings at the time, so the project was delayed almost a year, until the Building Committee revisited the plans over the summer and recommended the equipment be purchased. The district received a $10,000 donation from the Kenmare Veteran’s Club and several parents volunteered their time to install the equipment, which saved the district $15,000 in labor costs.
King admitted to obsessing over the project once the pieces arrived. Board member Craig Ellsworth used a week of vacation time to work on installation, with other parents donating any time they could spare, including Kevin King, Lenny Rodin, Melissa Harris, Melissa Pedersen, Fay Froseth, Pete and Becky Stroklund, Denton Overton, Lars Christensen, and Pat and Stacey Schoemer. A few junior high and high school students helped as well, along with Mr. Young’s vocational classes.
Ellsworth used his Bobcat to dig holes for the steel posts that had to be set in concrete, while Mike Zimmer brought his tractor for scraping and leveling the site. High school custodian Jerry Mickelsen made the school’s tractor available. “He made sure we had the equipment we needed when we needed it,” said King. Burke-Divide Electric and Harris Construction also provided a variety of valuable and timely support for the project.
Parents may notice the playground equipment is built on a somewhat sloped site in order to prevent water from pooling around the posts. “That was a big thing we learned when Berthold built theirs,” King said.
She laughed as she described her own perfectionist personality working with some of the stronger, enthusiastic volunteers who wanted to finish the project quickly. “The instructions [for assembly] were very particular and there are a lot of safety things included,” she said. “My goal was to start one Wednesday and to have it done by Friday of the next week, and we were, except for the rock!”
She almost missed that deadline, which fell on September 16th, as the group struggled with the instructions and learned from their errors that each step had to be followed in order. “It was so mind-boggling,” said King. “We had 35 posts, all at different heights, plus we had a slope, but the posts had to be level.”
In fact, holes for some of those posts had to be re-dug, and then the group discovered the company had sent a wrong piece. Fortunately, the company shipped a replacement immediately and a driver from Farmers Union Oil Co. happened to see it awaiting delivery from Minot, so he transported it to the high school.
King appreciated the generous help, and as the project got closer to completion, she started to relax. “My biggest fear is that we would get done and I would see leaning poles, that it would look all goofy!” she said.
As she spent days poring over instructions and matching pieces for each component, leveling and re-leveling every part of the equipment, King allowed herself one indulgence. “I did put my initials in the Quikrete under the teeter-totter,” she admitted. “T.M.K., but that’s buried under the rocks.”
Most of the equipment is connected, essentially creating a loop of activities the kids can follow, although two pieces stand alone. The entire set-up is bordered by rubber blocks around a filler of washed rock 12 inches deep.
“We chose the washed rock because it has rounded edges,” King said. “We have it one foot deep, which meets regulations, but to me the more we have, the better.”
All the equipment is painted a shiny maroon and gold to match the school colors. King ticked off a list of components, laughing again as she talked about how many times she stared at the name for each one while she was studying the directions.
“We have the Sidewinder Slide, the Triple Ring Fling and the C-Ladder,” she said. “There’s a Pod Bridge, the Spider Web Climber and a Conceal Climber that is perched at an angle. My favorite is the Chimney Climber, with its rubber rings and you climb up inside of it. The kids’ favorite seems to be the Track Rider, which the kids hold onto and ride from one landing to another.”
She also mentioned the stand-up teeter totter, the Cascade Climber with its panels, and yet another bridge with three swinging pods. “Plus, there are lots of opportunities to add on to it,” she said, “or to put up another independent component into the area we have set up.”
The parents positioned the equipment to allow room for football and soccer games at recess. The basketball court was untouched, but the tetherball had to be moved to a new location.
King wanted to get the washed rock laid and raked before any students actually used the equipment, but the anticipation was too great and during the junior high football game on the 19th, several children found their way over to the tempting new playground. Work on the rocks continued through last week.
Despite the hours of labor and complications during the process, King is pleased with the results. “I loved hearing the comments from the older kids who said, ‘It’s not fair, How come these kids get this and we didn’t?’” she said. She grinned and added she knows very well some of the 7th, 8th and 9th graders have tried out the new equipment for themselves.
“It was all totally worth it, just to see those kids out there,” she continued. “They look like ants running all over it! This playground will benefit the community.”
One of those happy kids, fourth grade student Colby Feldman, was all smiles even as noon recess ended Monday because he made several rounds through the new equipment. ““This is awesome,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun!”
He tried to list the best parts, beginning with the track line and the climbing wall, but then he pointed to more and more equipment until he finally gave up with a shrug and a grin. “I have a lot of favorites!” he said.
Which might be the very best way to describe a new playground.