Recess Remodel: Ely Elementary Seeking New Playground

Baihly Warfield
January 10, 2017 10:35 PM

With fresh snow falling, the students of Washington Elementary School in Ely donned snow pants, coats, hats and mittens and scrambled outside for their half hour recess. 

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Most grabbed sleds and a buddy and slid down the small hill just outside the school's back door. They were perfectly happy, but come summertime, there aren't so many appealing options. 

Washington Elementary only has a small playground in the far corner of the property, and the students have to cross an empty parking lot to get to it. 

"It's a huge asphalt area between our hill and the playground," Principal Anne Oelke explained. 

The arena allows people to park on the lot on the weekends. 

The current play area also isn't very handicapped accessible. 

"For some of our kids that have some more challenges, it's not the best place for them," Oelke said. 

It's been like this for awhile, but last year, the former Kennedy Elementary building next door was demolished, and Oelke's wheels started turning. 

"I think to actually see the opportunity, like oh my gosh, we could maybe probably not have a ... parking lot right in the middle of our playspace," Oelke said. 

They interview four potential companies and chose Flagship Recreation. After that, they brought all the kids in the auditorium and showed them the possibilities. Oelke said they were very excited. 

"So finally I was like, 'How cool would it be to have this? A playground like that?'" Oelke recalled. "And they were just piped, just pumped, ready to go."

Each classroom came up with a top 10 wish list of what equipment they want the most. Their suggestions are hanging in the school's main hallway. 

"They all want a ZipKrooz," Oelke said. "A zip line has got to be on that playground."

And the kids are putting their pocket change behind their plans too. 

"We kicked off a penny war," Oelke said. "Believe it or not, we raised $3,880. I mean, it was insane."

The fourth graders won the challenge, and they get to have pizza and a movie in the auditorium Wednesday. 

"We had the jars out in the front hallway, and it said kindergarten, first, second, third and fourth, and you put the coins in which one you wanted to win," Oelke said. 

They need about $150,000 in all. A GoFundMe page has raised more than $1,600 so far. Oelke is also hoping a second try at a $48,000 grant from U.S. Bank's Places to Play initiative will provide a big chunk of change. 

"Kids need play every day, so it's pretty important," Oelke said. 

She's also looking at grants from Shopko, Captain America, Lake Country Power and IRRRB. There's also a list of fundraising opportunities for students and the community to get involved in. The kids will collect pledges and run laps for the playground in the spring and hold a toy rummage sale in May. 

They hope to have a community build in August so the playground is ready for the 2017-2018 school year. 


Baihly Warfield

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