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Opstad parents rally resources for new playground

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NORTH BEND - Parent funded. Kid approved - that could be the slogan for the new playground equipment at Opstad Elementary School.

After being picked out by the school's students last spring, parents and supporters of Opstad are putting the finishing touches on new playground equipment that was funded almost entirely with private money.

"It was inspiring to see," said Opstad principal John Jester.

Although playground equipment may seem as much a part of a school as a chalkboard or flagpole, funds to build new equipment are always hard to come by, according to Jester. Most of the equipment at the school has been built in some part with private money.

With money garnered from its annual walk-a-thon fund-raiser, the school's Parent Teacher Association (PTA) had saved up about $21,000 for new playground equipment. Rather than spend all the money in one place, though, it decided to use the $21,000 as seed money to get grants so the new equipment would be better than anything the school had before.

Parent volunteer and project manager Caroline Loudenback said the parents thought it was important to get new equipment that would keep all the children active and interested. They also wanted to have equipment that would not distract from the school's already serene setting. With Mount Si and blue sky looming over the playground, Loudenback said the PTA looked for playground options that didn't look like a carnival ride but more like a natural complement to the sylvan area that surrounds Opstad, so the equipment is blue and tan. The PTA also wanted to serve children with disabilities at the playground with activities close to the ground.

Alongside the parents' efforts, the school held a summit last spring to get student input on what they would like to see at the playground, with each grade sending representatives to meet and discuss options submitted from playground manufacturers. Each of the school's different play areas (kindergarten, first through third grade, and fourth through fifth grade) would get new equipment.

With the seed funds in hand and the designs approved by the students, parents went to work raising the rest of the money. They secured a $45,000 grant from King County and are "cautiously optimistic" about a $15,000 grant from Starbucks. One parent, Sandy Heaslett, secured a $1,000 grant from Washington Mutual. The PTA may dip into its reserve funds and is hoping to come up with another $10,000 to add to the project.

Once the equipment was purchased, it had to be assembled. While Americorps and Red Cross volunteers came out to the school to help put up the equipment, most of the labor was left to volunteers. Teachers, staff and even parents who once had children at Opstad joined current parents to get the playground built during work days this spring. The most character building time may have been the whole day in April spent setting up posts in the driving rain, but the volunteers were all smiles.

At the end of the day, Loudenback estimated that the playground would have cost around $95,000 to build, but with donated labor, grants and funds from the PTA, the only resources the school district had to provide was some staff time and the demolition of the old equipment.

The first set of equipment, located in the first- through third-grade play area, should be ready for play this week. Students at Opstad watched anxiously as the new set went up, featuring five slides (some of them side-by-side for racing), a climbing wall, bridges, towers and a marble game.

Later this summer, the kindergarten playground and older students' obstacle course will be installed. The obstacle course was designed with some input from the school's physical education teacher who wanted students to have more opportunities to exercise their lower bodies.

"All the parents are concerned about the health of their children," said Lyn Seydell, past president of the Opstad PTA. "That was a big part of all of this.

In the future, Loudenback said the PTA will work to get the school's blacktop resurfaced and painted with a map of the world.

While there were many large organizations that helped, Loudenback and Seydell said it was the local residents and groups that When the work crews needed pizza, Frankie's Pizza gave them some free pies. When the crew needed some heavy equipment, R & R Rentals stepped in with free gear. No matter what is was, when there was a need, there was a way to get it taken care of.

"You ask for something and it has been there," Loudenback said "It's typical of our community."


Editor Ben Cape can be reached at (425) 888-2311 or by e-mail at ben.cape@valleyrecord.com.

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