Homer Alaska - Schools

Story last updated at 12:40 PM on Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Combined creates charter school's playground

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer


Photo provided

A group of volunteers create a cushioning layer of woodchips for the kindergarden-second grade students using the playground at Fireweed Academy's East End Road location.

When Fireweed Academy, a Kenai Peninsula Borough School District charter school in Homer, expanded its student body from third- through sixth-grade to include kindergarten through second-grade, it needed more than classroom space. It needed a playground.

"When we started last year, all we had was a fence," Kiki Abrahamson, head teacher, said of the playground at Little Fireweed, as the K-2 site on East End Road has become known.

A joint effort of students, parents, school faculty and staff, local businesses and others has turned the empty area into a playground filled with laughing, playing youngsters.

Two large tires have set imaginations rolling. One day they are a fortress. Another day, a castle. The next day, a giant bird. A few alder poles lashed together at the top and wrapped in plastic have created not only a teepee, but also a shelter from chilly winds. Hollow cottonwood logs are the right size for crawling inside and, with a gentle push from gravity, taking advantage of the playground's gentle slope.

A garden yielded enough potatoes that Fireweed's three youngest grades enjoyed a potato lunch last week, with the scraps to be used in their compost effort to make next year's garden even more productive. Recently planted bulbs also will fill the garden with color when next spring's sun begins to warm the earth.

Then, there are the mound, swings, parallel bars and the water pump that a group of concerned adults have added to the children's play area.

"Lisa Zatz interviewed the kids and researched what the most popular things were for a playground," said Abrahamson of the role Zatz, a school nurse and Fireweed parent, took in helping guide the playground's development.

The students drew detailed maps. Sophia's colorful illustration included bars to hang from, a teepee, trees and a carousel. Elias' drawing included a garden, as well as a water slide and climbing wall. Owen's picture had a pond, a picnic and a dirt pile.

Zatz spent hours pouring over national safety guidelines for playgrounds. Distilling the information, she developed and presented guidelines to the playground work group.

Research linking youngsters' upper body strength with their ability to write also was a factor.

"We realized we needed something for them to climb and pull up on, a horizontal ladder or parallel bars," said Zatz.

Standing out was the flatness of the playground area.

"If for no other reason than aesthetics, it needed topographic relief," said Zatz of motivation to create a mound for climbing and an incline for sledding.

"With the help of (Ben Park and Mary Tricamo-Park) we developed the visual of what the playground could look like," said Zatz of the group's vision as illustrated by the couple whose daughter attends Fireweed.

Most of the work was done during the summer, with Abrahamson's husband, Abe, and Ben Park doing some excavating with a Bobcat, helping remove soil and replacing it with 27 truckloads of wood chips in the area where swings and bars have since been constructed. The removed soil became the basis for the mound, over which was spread topsoil that was planted with grass seed.

Some construction materials, such as the lumber from Spenard Builders Supply, and labor were donated. Jason Johnson of Johnson and Sons of Anchor Point was hired to do some earthwork, but when Zatz asked for an invoice, Johnson told her it was a gift.

"Bay Welding put together the swings," said Mary Tricamo-Park.

"After work six men did it on their own time. It was really sweet. A big effort."

Someone else donated planter boxes that Fireweed teacher Kim Fine used in developing the playground's garden area.

Finishing touches were completed after school began in the fall.

"When I said, 'Well, the mound is open,' it was hysterical. Thirty kids ran to the top of it and just stood there and looked around. They just stood there in this big group," said Zatz. "It was so cute."

Zatz and her husband, Daniel, also installed a hand pump for water that proved fascinating for youngsters until cold weather recently required it be removed for the upcoming winter.

The bulk of the work is now complete, "but we do have room to add a couple more swings," said Zatz. "And I guess the other part is a walking path that would wind through the area. I think the kids will put that in."

The price tag of the playground has been considerably less than it could have been, thanks to the combined effort.

"The fence was bid at $20,000, but we built it for $3,000 and volunteer labor," said Abrahamson.

Zatz estimated the remainder of the playground was built for $5,000.

"People did whatever they could," said Abrahamson.