By A.J. Etherington
The Courier 

Irle School Playground Update Nears Completion


September 4, 2019

A.J. Etherington / The Courier

Whitney Tatafu (l) with Northwest Farm Credit Services presents a $1,000 grant to PTO President Kim Turner (bottom), PTO Treasurer Nicole Mix (middle) and PTO VP Nicole Cole (top). The funds will be used as part of the playground upgrade at Irle School.

Students arriving at, and returning to, Irle School this year found themselves – once again – playing at Bundy Park for recess. The reason? The school's playground upgrade and expansion has fallen behind schedule due to weather, but is inching ever closer to completion and better accessibility for all the attending students.

Currently, the expansion is finishing up with concrete work to the outer walking path and drainage upgrades to fix the issues with standing water before moving the basketball courts and installing a complete wrap-around fence. Irle Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) President Kim Turner and Vice President Nicole Cole sat down with the Courier to give an update on the project and discuss its funding and origination.

Turner described upgrading the playground as one of the PTO's original founding goals. Initially, that upgrade involved a safety fence and a swing set. Over time, however, those plans morphed and feedback from a teacher led the PTO to a completely different outcome with the same goal in mind.

According to Turner, one of the school's teachers was concerned about the accessibility of the playground for a student who did not have the same level of mobility to access the playground. So, she proposed to the PTO that they put the swings on the back burner and instead promote a plan to install a walking path all the way around the playground. That plan, according to Turner, would allow students to have better access to the equipment and to participate in playing with their friends anywhere on the playground.

As a result of that presentation, the PTO formed a playground committee to work with Irle staff and come up with a viable plan to upgrade the park. Eventually, they would develop the current plan and present it to the school board who approved them moving forward, provided the upgrades and expansion was not funded by the school district.

Due to the approval from the school board, the PTO will pay out over $25,500 to install the walking path around the playground. That effort was in addition to the fence, which the PTO successfully lobbied the school board to install and pay for as part of students' safety during recess. However, due to the PTO's added expansion of the playground to take a section of the faculty parking lot and turn it into a basketball court, the PTO is also paying $2,800 to fence in the new addition.

The fence was one of the first issues the PTO tackled with the school board. Turner recounted the story saying, "The playground originally started with the fence well before the swings." She stated, along with Cole, that the PTO was founded in March of 2018 and by May of 2018 was approached to help with the fence issue.

"We had a member of the PTO that was genuinely concerned for her child's safety," said Turner. As a result they conducted a facebook poll of parents and sought feedback from staff and faculty at the school even interviewing the staff responsible for monitoring children during recess and found a good deal of support for the project. They took it to the school board and after hashing out details the board moved forward with approving and funding the fence. However, it was not installed in the summer of 2018 and a temporary fence was put up. Turner said that the fence was installed at the request of the superintendent at the time, Bob Connors, to test the secondary effects of a fence on the playground.

Following the school year, the PTO returned with the playground upgrade and expansion project and the follow-up on the fence, and on July 15 the school board approved the PTO's plan and the permanent fence provided the PTO funded the project minus the original fence costs from the 2018 decision. After that the PTO hired a contractor and Mother Nature has slowed the process since. Still, the PTO is optimistic that the concrete work will be complete, the fence will be installed and the basketball courts will be moved within a few more weeks.

Turner and Cole both agreed that the project will make the playground safer and more open to a broader base of students. Not just by improving accessibility, but by giving students who may not want to play on the equipment or dodge basketballs a place to congregate and hang out without fear of being bombarded by balls or knocked over by players. It also moves the activity farther from the school's exit and entrance, so those walking out are not caught off guard by flying objects.

As for the loss in teacher parking, Turner says the PTO surveyed teachers, ran a pilot program blocking off the spaces and then asked for faculty feedback, and, she says, the teachers and staff backed the plan.

"We are all just trying to work together," said Turner, "to do what's in the best interest of the staff, the students, the parents and the school as a whole."

Of course, the PTO has also enjoyed a great deal of community support with a number of successful fundraisers and some big donations. Recently, they received $5,000 from Zerbe Brothers Inc. and a $1,000 grant from Northwest Farm Credit Services both for the playground. The initial funding for the sidewalk around the playground was paid for by an anonymous Glasgow business owner who donated $16,500 which, at the time, was supposed to pay for the whole project.

The PTO is still seeking to raise funds for the swing set, a goal they have not given up on. They were hoping to tackle the issue of funding and contracting before the ground freezes, but they may have to put the project off until after the thaw.

"We genuinely just have good intentions," explained Turner about working with the community to support the most people possible. "There are always unforeseen consequences, but we certainly do not want to alienate anyone."

Cole stated that the group is trying their hardest to involve as many people and businesses as possible in programs like the PAW-some awards and the staff member of the month awards. The group is also maintaining their mini grant program which allows a staff member to apply for a $100 grant to use in a classroom or in their area alleviating some of the out-of-pocket costs of being a teacher or school employee.

To volunteer or support the PTO plan on attending their meetings held the second Monday of every month in the cafeteria of Irle School. It is not a requirement to have a student attending Irle to be a member of the PTO or to be involved in any way. The group is currently looking for a secretary to serve on the board.

A.J. Etherington / The Courier


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