By Dan Walk
Four years ago, Brenda Costa’s son Joey expressed his despair when renovations left First District Elementary School without a playground.
Joey, who is now a fifth-grader, and more than 400 First District students have plenty of reasons to smile following Saturday’s official dedication of a new playground behind the school on North Main Street.
“That’s the reason why I wanted to be chair of this project,” Costa said about her son’s encouragement. “He was upset the old playground was removed. He was my motivation.”
The playground, which cost approximately $30,000, was installed on Nov. 3 and First District students have been playing on it during recess since last Monday.
Jeffrey Associates, a company based out of Indianola which specializes in playgronds and other outdoor equipment, provided a professionally assisted build. It took First District Principal Delta Zahniser, teachers and parents five hours to put all the equipment together and another four hours to put down mulch and gravel and complete the surfacing. There were 85 yards of mulch and 12 tons of pea gravel placed under the mulch for drainage.
“We’re very thrilled to have it here,” Costa said. “We went through a lot of hurdles to get this over the last four years. It’s really a wonderful sight to see kids playing on it.”
The compact, 1,900-square-foot playground features a rock wall, four slides and monkey bars. The rock wall was a very popular addition.
“When we first started this project,” Costa said, “we sent out a survey to teachers and students to ask them what features that they would be interested in. The No. 1 choice was the rock wall. So that’s how we got our 7-foot rock wall.”
Another important aspect of the playground is that it is not fenced off. More than just the 430 students at First District can enjoy it.
“We wanted it to be a playground that was accessible to the community,” Costa said. “There’s not a park or playground in this part of the Meadville neighborhoods, so we want neighborhood people and people from the community to come and use it.”
Costa, who also has a first-grade son Christopher, thought raising money would be the hardest task to accomplish. But the main difficulty was working with the district and finding a space to put the playground.
When the school was renovated, the area left for the playground couldn’t have playground equipment due to the drainage feature that ran through there. The area also wasn’t large enough.
Because of this, Costa and the rest of the playground committee had to work with the district to find a space to put the playground.
“These were parking spaces previously,” Costa said as she pointed to where the playground currently exists, “and it was cooperation from Meadville Medical Center and First Alliance Church that allowed us to have off-site parking for the teachers and facility that gave us permission in order to take this space up and put it here.”
Over the past four years, the committee has held various fundraisers — a pizza dinner, basket raffles, movie nights, Hoss’s Community Nights, and a pool party at Meadville Area Recreation Complex, to mention a few.
“For the most part, the majority of the money was raised just on our own efforts,” Costa said. “We did not get any large grant money or any of those sorts of things that funded it. We raised it all ourselves.”
A third of the $30,000 came from collecting Box Tops for Education. About 100,000 Box Tops were accumulated over the past four years, she said.
“We raised almost $10,000 through Box Tops. So, 10 cents at a time,” Costa said. “And my family sat in the living room and counted every one of those.”
Dan Walk can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.