Georgetown Elementary’s all-inclusive playground a reality through community unity

Georgetown Elementary Principal Neil Stong and Alexia Ratajack of Schell Brothers help carry another load of special engineered wood fibers for placement around playground equipment.

GEORGETOWN – For some participants Saturday in the day-long work bee at Georgetown Elementary School, Advil, Aleve and Bengay may have been the aching relief choice before bedtime.

“Maybe … a heating pad,” said Sara Heinicke, an occupational therapist for the school and Indian River School District who was among the dozens of worker bees.

Volunteer manpower and woman-power from the school community and beyond joined Schell Brothers’ staff and expertise in the realization of Georgetown Elementary School’s new all-inclusive playground.

“It’s honestly surreal because we’ve been working on this for so long,” said 2017 Indian River High School graduate Sara Saylor.

She was who was one of three IRHS STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) students – classmates Ricky Parrett and Samuel Rojas were the others – that tackled the project for their Capstone obligation through Project Lead the Way, IRHS’s engineering program. “To see everybody in the community, Schell’s generosity and actually seeing your vision finally become tangible I never thought I’d be able to see it happen this quickly and as great as it has,” she said.

The new playground, realized through generous monetary and labor donations, is designed to provide recess fun and enjoyment for all students:  those with and without disabilities and limitations.

“This is going to allow them to experience fun the way it should be experienced, regardless of your abilities or physical limitations,” said Brian Lewis of Cunningham Recreation, the local manufacturer’s representative for GameTime, one of two playground equipment providers.

“I do occupational therapy for the district so I can actually work with my students that may have some limitations physically, even maybe mentally,” said Ms. Heinicke. “Maybe they have autism or maybe they have some sensory issues. So, this playground is going to reach a multitude of students with and without disabilities. I am just amazed. I am beside myself with all the people that have come out.”

Together, in concerted, coordinated waves the small volunteer army installed new pieces of equipment.

And continuously throughout the day, volunteers in tandem dragged to specified areas large tarps loaded with mulch-type engineered wood fibers. The special fibers provide an absorbent cushion base and make the entire playground accessible to those in wheelchairs.

“They (wood fibers) are ground specifically so a wheelchair can wheel on it,” said IRHS engineering instructor Jordan O’Boyle. “And it cushions should a student fall.”

“Actually, the entire playground is going to be accessible,” said Mr. Lewis. “From the surfacing to an accessible route of travel from the building to the playground, the playground equipment itself – all of the new equipment that is being installed – is ADA accessible. So, this is going to be a game-changer for these children.”

Georgetown Elementary administration – principal Neil Stong and assistant principal Travis Bower – were among the many volunteers.

“We have staff members here helping out. We really appreciate the fact that they are here because they care about the kids and they want to see the kids have a great playground to play on,” said Mr. Stong.

“It has been interesting to watch the whole thing and just seeing all of the excitement the Schell employees brought with them, and to see all of the great work that the students did to prep for this – and all of work that Mr. O’Boyle did to help out, too,” said Mr. Bower.

The project received the IRSD board of education’s blessing March 27 following a power-point presentation by the three Indian River High School seniors who designed the project. The project cost presented at that March 27 presentation was just over $64,000, which was covered through $70,000 in generous donations from B and C elevators, DIY company, a private donor and Schell Brothers, which not only matched the $35,000 in initial donations but pledged to install the equipment free of charge.

“We are always looking for opportunities to give back,” said Chris Schell. “One, we like helping the community but two, quite honestly, we enjoy it. Part of our mission is to spread happiness. And one of the things that we found that brings us happiness along with the people we help is just helping other people.”

“A lot of things we are asked to do just involve giving money,” said Mr. Schell. “We really like doing this, where we can get involved and do it as a team and have fun. So, this is the perfect kind of project for us.”

Ms. Heinicke’s particular concerns for one little girl with very limited access and in general Georgetown Elementary and Howard T. Ennis School students housed at GES got the ball rolling. Emails were sent to both district high schools, seeking assistance in creating a piece of playground equipment made for her caseload of students with disabilities.

Enter IRHS and Project Lead the Way.

“To think this started with the thought of one child and her needs,” said Mr. Stong. “And it blossomed and is going to benefit all of our kids, specifically those with special needs.”

An alumnus connection to the project is Schell Brothers’ staffer Sara Besche, a former Georgetown Elementary student.

There also was a school connection to Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, which donated labor – and a six-foot sub sandwich to the lunch-break menu.

“We have bridged not just staff members but we’ve bridged our school system with our community,” said Ms. Heinicke, who spent most of the day pitchforking small mountains of wood fibers. “And some of the people from Schell have shared with me that they actually have children with disabilities, too. So, it takes on double meaning for a lot of these people coming out to help us.”

Mr. Stong worked up quite a sweat as a “sled dog” with the tarp-pulling crew. “I’ve done some landscaping in the summer time as odd jobs and things like that but nothing like this,” he said.

“Spreading this mulch by hand is an endeavor to say the least,” said Mr. Schell.

IRSD school board member Gerald Peden pitched in to help.

“I helped with the swing set. I am the ‘designated cement dumper,’” said Mr. Peden. “It’s great to see the whole community and businesses all pitch in and volunteers. It’s exciting to see it all come together in one day. All of the help and all of the donations, it’s incredible what the community does.”

“It’s been a long road and to see it finally come to fruition is really amazing,” said Mr. Stong. “The generosity of all the volunteers, specifically Schell Brothers and their team has been absolutely amazing. They are very gracious for donating a couple days labor.”

Mr. O’Boyle estimated the project would be “pretty much complete” by sunset Saturday.

“Each piece of equipment has a team leader,” said Mr. O’Boyle. “If you time lapse the site you would see that it went from not much standing to most of the pieces erected within three hours.”

Mr. Schell shared the coordination secret.

“The coordination; I’d love to say it’s a function of our experience building homes,” said Mr. Schell. “But really, believe it or not we’ve learned by doing our Christmas floats that you have to have teams and you have to have captains, so that everybody doesn’t just stand around trying to figure out what to do. It’s much more functional if you break it into the components.”

Site prep work, including some concrete, was undertaken Friday by Schell Brothers staff, setting the stage for Saturday.

“Monetary donations are always helpful and it’s great to see people step up to the plate but without Schell Brothers’ expertise it wouldn’t come together,” said Mr. Peden. “So, we greatly appreciate them.”

“It’s a great effort,” Mr. Lewis said. “We actually refer to these as community builds. A lot of these people are looking for opportunities to donate their time within their community and I couldn’t think of a better one than what they are out here doing today.”

He added that working with the three students in designing the project was “amazing.”

“It was actually a lot of fun for me. It’s been about a nine-month process,” said Mr. Lewis. “To be able to work with Ricky and Sara and Sammy was fantastic. And their instructor at the high school, Mr. O’Boyle, is a very generous man, and genuinely cared about what we were trying to accomplish here. I think they did a fantastic job,” said Mr. Lewis.

Sara Saylor, who is bound for Mississippi State University, plans to return. “I am looking forward to coming back and seeing everybody use it,” she said.

Planning for an official dedication is in the works.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.