New playground equipment adds to first-day excitement

Eric McCarthy
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ST. LOUIS -- There they stood, eager but quiet, packed in tightly at the edge of the basketball court. Some appeared to be listening to the short speeches; most, however, had their focus squarely on their school’s new playground equipment. 

None of it was in place when classes ended in June.

But here it was, the first day of the new school year, and St. Louis Elementary School students were mere meters and seconds away from experiencing this new equipment as one big group

Then, as the ribbon was cut to officially open the new slides, climbing and play equipment, they moved in. They swarmed the new equipment en masse.

Even the students who had been using the equipment regularly since its installation in July were eager to try it out in the company of their classmates.

Planning to replace worn-out equipment started last November after a group of parents, helping out with the breakfast program, discussed the need.

“Sometimes we were not allowed on the old equipment, because it was broke,” Grade 4 student, Claire Ashley, noted. “This playground is way better.”

A committee of parents worked throughout the winter organizing special events and obtaining donations for the cause. The Little Tikes equipment cost approximately $60,000 to purchase and install, and the more than 20 volunteers who spent a day and a half in the heat of July assisting with installation helped keep the cost down. Children were on the swings nearby, eagerly waiting for the summer project to complete so that they could try it out.

The playground equipment committee has raised about $40,000 towards the cost and received a $15,000 Island Community Fund grant.

Committee chair Tasha Ashley said they hope to have all the costs covered once the school hosts a Drive a Ford event on September 27.

Parent April Delaney admitted seeing the excitement of the students on Thursday was gratifying. She had used some of the old equipment when she attended school there and acknowledged it was time for a major upgrade.

Instead of having equipment for older grades at one side of the playground and equipment for the younger students at the other side, a decision was made to place the two structures side-by-side.

There are still swings, the basketball court and lots of field space for ball and soccer, but on Thursday all the students were sticking close to the new equipment and taking their turns climbing and sliding and testing everything out.

The equipment has been used extensively all summer. “We drive by every evening and it looks like the 401 outside,” said Sally Jo Gaudet of all the activity.

Principal Michelle Lewis said knowing they would get to try out the new equipment just added to students’ first day excitement.

Organizations: St. Louis Elementary School, Grade 4, Little Tikes Island Community Fund Ford

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