Dream playground to become a reality for local students

by Alan Hodge

Scott Cunningham works with students at Paw Creek Elementary to design a playground for the school. (Alan Hodge/MIM photo)

The Business Volunteer Council of Charlotte has given a group of local elementary school students the best school assignment ever: design the playground of your dreams.

The council sent a Charlotte playground consultant to Paw Creek Elementary Jan. 11, where he gave 12 students the task of using a 200-page catalog, featuring state-of-the-art equipment, to design an all-expenses paid playground which will be built at the school in the spring. The council’s Leadership Team raises money to fund the equipment and organizes labor for the build day.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for the students as well as the Paw Creek community,” Paw Creek Elementary Principal Mary Koenig. “Some of the old equipment need repair and was not up to OSHA (federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration) standards.”

The Paw Creek Elementary project marks the ninth year that the council has partnered with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to build a playground at one of its schools. Charlotte is the only U.S. city that has participated in a school playground program, with volunteer labor provided by local businesses, for such a long period of time. Past playground sites include Pawtuckett, Idlewild and Thomasboro elementary schools, as well as Progress Park.

Scott Cunningham, of the Charlotte-based playground design firm Cunningham Associates, Inc., led an hour-long brainstorming session with the group of eager young architects. The council chose Paw Creek Elementary because of its large enrollment of more than 550 students and the poor condition of the current playground’s equipment.

“You kids have a big responsibility today,” Cunningham told the students. “The playground you design will be here years from now.”

The kids ecstatically pored over the hundreds of pieces of colorful and imaginative equipment featured in the catalog’s pages. Five-year-old Marlona Nash, a kindergartener, found just what she was looking for on the first page.

“I want a dolphin like this to climb on,” she said while pointing at a piece of Flipper-shaped equipment.

Fifth-grader Jared Owen said he liked the looks of a rock climbing wall, but that he also knew of the huge responsibility placed upon him and his fellow students.

“This is my last year at Paw Creek,” Owen said. “It will be special to look back and say I helped make the new playground.”

Once the students selected some equipment, Cunningham fed the images into a computer and projected the layout on a screen in 3-D. Choices include a double spiral slide, net climber, fireman-style sliding pole, rock wall and a tower with a telescope, as well as a purple, green, orange and blue color scheme.

“This will be the coolest playground ever,” Cunningham said.

With the playground’s planning phase complete, the build date has been set for April 25, rain or shine. For more information, go online to www.charlotteplaygroundbuild.com.

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