Lafayette Playground project’s new phase: Match the $, fast!

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

This weekend’s Lafayette Elementary Sports Swap – drop off donations/consignment till 3 pm today, shop and “swap” 9 am-3 pm Sunday (flyer here) – is the current fundraiser for a longrunning project that’s suddenly attained new urgency: Upgrading the playground for West Seattle’s most populous public elementary school.

The playground-upgrading project has been under way for years (Lafayette is one of the schools our son attended, and we recall fundraisers up to six years ago!) – but now, there’s a “use it or lose it” component: A $100,000 city Neighborhood Matching Fund grant for Phase 2 (outlined here) that MUST be matched with cash and other contributions by the end of January, or else it goes away.

To get the job done, there’s now a catchy campaign name – Play It Forward – and parent volunteers specifically focused on marketing (including production of the explanatory video you can watch atop this story). We chatted recently with the Lafayette moms who are project co-chairs, to find out why this is a matter of concern beyond even the 530-plus families with students at the school now:

First – the playground itself, where we photographed Deborah Hazlegrove and Holly Grambihler. There’s been an upgrade here and an upgrade here over the years – most notably, the installation of some grass, on what was previously a massive expanse of blacktop – but this is the big one: The “Big Toy” and the area around it. The current one bears a sign noting it was dedicated in 1993 – and it also bears more than ample signs of wear, like the shoring-up of this small slide:

The playground area is also out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), “so special-needs students and neighbors can’t use it,” Deborah says, adding that the new design has “gone through many layers of community involvement,” adding greenery, shade, places to sit, which she notes is more important than ever, since Lafayette’s service area now includes Pigeon Point and part of Delridge, so the playground has become a gathering place/destination that has to be fixed before a district inspection leaves it declared unsafe and unusable. Even the benches have breakage, it’s pointed out to us:

What about the Hiawatha Community Center park playground nearby? they are asked. The answer: That playground is geared more for kids below elementary age.

So back to the task of matching the $100,000 grant: Getting together a new campaign to raise the money has proven interesting: D, “We’ve found many people who have skills – parents not currently working (outside the home) whose energies you can tap into.”

“She conned me into it,” laughs Holly, whose background includes broadcast media – and whose husband has known Deborah since preschool. Her Lafayette student is a second-grader (with a sibling who just started middle school this year at Madison), while Deborah’s is a first-grader, so both have several years to go at Lafayette, and their moms would love to see the playground dream come true before their grade-schoolers move on.

But it’s not easy. “You don’t realize how much this stuff costs!” So they were “amazed” to get the city grant – but, “OK, now we have to do (the rest of) the work.”

January 31st will be here sooner than anyone realizes. And rather than put their fundraising eggs in one big basket, “we’re doing lots of different things” – beyond this weekend’s Sports Swap (which was preceded by the first one last spring) – advice that they garnered from friends who were expert fundraisers.

They also are selling sponsored bricks, plaques, and even boulders – which are expected to appeal to Lafayette alums and their families, to commemorate their involvement with the school, which has a history dating back more than a century: Though the school wasn’t named Lafayette until 1918, there was a school at California/Lander as early as 1893, according to the official Seattle Public Schools history page.

They’ve had morning coffee events at the school in the past few weeks to raise awareness, dubbed “Playground Perks” (here’s coverage on the project website). Also in the works, a parent event including an auction. “It’s unfortunate the district can’t pay for (playground updates),” Holly says, “but playgrounds are important … it’s where the kids are ‘getting their wiggles out’. And it’s open to the community – the gates are open 24/7, and kids love going there.” Deborah says they’re also working with the project architect to make the entrance more “significant,” and obvious – maybe even something with an arbor – so that its summer-usability status is clear to all.

In addition, they’re working on communicating the situation to the entire peninsula, since, with more than 500 students, Lafayette is now connected to so many area families. They hope to talk to more of the local community councils.

Assuming the matching-fund campaign is a success – and the duo makes it clear, failure is not an option – they’re “on track to break ground this summer,” smiles Deborah. They’ve been meeting with the district, regarding the plans and the approval process, and have been told that once they have the money, they can go out to bid. They haven’t picked the exact design for the “Big Toy” yet – “we hope to get input from the kids, to have them vote on it,” Holly notes.

Then once this is built, maybe down the road … a Phase 3, perhaps to improve the planter area outside the kindergarten classrooms (east of the playground itself).

But first: Phase 2. How to help? Shop the Sports Swap tomorrow (Sunday 11/7/2010) at Lafayette (2641 California SW), 9 am-3 pm (official flyer here); check out the Play It Forward website (where you’ll see an easy way to make $ donations), and the Facebook page; or get involved in other ways (detailed here).

And if you’re going to Gathering of Neighbors today (Saturday) – we hear the project will have a presence there too.

9 Replies to "Lafayette Playground project's new phase: Match the $, fast!"

  • Gina November 6, 2010 (11:06 am)

    “And it’s open to the community – the gates are open 24/7, and kids love going there.”

    I bet to differ. One gate is open 24/7, and there are 4 steps to negotiate, blocking access to the playground for those unable to use stairs.

    I have seen many a crying child pushing their bicycle up the stairs, and having it fall over on them.

    Also the 44th Ave public right of way was locked off without input from the neighborhood.

    Is there still a great fear of skateboarders? The benches and tables didn’t get broken by skateboarders, to the contrary of what administrators say. Wood weakens with time. Children like to climb on top of things and jump up and down. The inevitable will occur.

  • school November 6, 2010 (11:44 am)

    Agreed with Gina. We have been ‘locked out’ on many occasions.

    Question as well – why 6 years? I would think it would have been easier to raise that money 4 years ago than now when the economy is changing and people are trying to make ends meet?

    Either way I wish them well. Lafayette is a great school in a great community.

  • west seattle person November 6, 2010 (11:45 am)

    Sure it needs some maintenance and access improvement, but my kids like playing on the current structure just fine and love the large pavement area for a safe place to ride bikes.

    Throwing away the current structure instead of making repairs seems a little wasteful.

    I’d love to see fundraisers for smaller class sizes instead.

  • shihtzu November 6, 2010 (11:58 am)

    Sure it needs some maintenance and access improvements, but my kids like playing on the current structure just fine and love the paved are for a safe place to ride bikes.

    Throwing the current structure away instead of making repairs seems a bit wasteful.

    I’d love to see some of the money go to smaller class sizes instead.

  • Lafayette Parent November 6, 2010 (3:57 pm)

    Thank you so much, WSB, for publishing this story!

    To answer a couple of the questions/comments brought up by other commenters:

    @school: Fundraising for the new play structure hasn’t been going on for six years. As the article states, this is “phase two” of the project. The money that was raised previously was for phase one, which brought some much welcome grass to the previously all-concrete play area. Phase 1 was a long and expensive process because, as I understand it, there were some monumental drainage issues to be dealt with. Fundraising for Phase 2 has been in process for only a year or so. And yes, a better economy would certainly make the process easier, but we’re doing what we can now, lest the play structure be “condemned” by the school district before the economy improves.

    @shihtzu: Agreed! Plenty of paved area will be maintained, as it is a very frequent (and much appreciated) safe place for kids to ride bikes, not to mention a number of other games and uses. Sadly, making repairs to the current structure is not an option. The school district does not repair. They inspect equipment to ensure it meets safety standards; if it doesn’t, they remove the offending piece of the structure or mark the entire thing unfit for play. (Someone please correct me if I’m wrong on this, but I’m 99% certain that’s what the school district rep told us.) The previous playground committee chair contacted companies to inquire about repairs and, though I don’t remember now what the reason was, it wasn’t an option. Still, simply repairing the play structure wouldn’t address the ADA non-compliance, and wouldn’t make the structure any more accessible for our students who currently can’t access it.

    As for the gates being locked, I’m not sure what that’s about – there is supposed to be access 24/7. Hopefully those were isolated incidents and it’s not happening any more.

    Finally, the playground committee is always looking for community members to join us. Anyone with concerns or comments, or who just wants to help out, is welcome! Someone from the committee always contacts WSB regarding open meetings, so if you’re interested, keep an eye out. Or check the project’s website and/or Facebook page. All input is welcome!

  • Alex November 6, 2010 (5:22 pm)

    I’m confused. I was a student at Lafayette when they had the exact same fund raising drive to build the current playground. I’m pretty sure that was less than 20 years ago, since I am only 27 now. It’s worn out already!? Anyway, The previous playground was one of those old-fashioned huge wood structures, and it was AWESOME. I felt that the new (current) structure was a huge step backwards, sacrificing fun for safety. They got rid of the tire swings :(

    Now I’m hearing that it’s already rusty and worn out? Jeez, I don’t know whether to feel old, or whether to be disappointed in the apparently poor quality structure they built when I was younger. If history is any guide, we can expect this new design to be even less fun (more safe), and of cheaper quality. Will this one even last ten years?

  • shihtzu November 6, 2010 (7:37 pm)

    Well good luck to you. Thanks for putting so much work into the school!

  • LyndaB and I used to go there, too November 6, 2010 (9:21 pm)

    i remember the old, old big toy. haven’t been on site in ages so i don’t really know how much disrepair it is in. thanks for the info.

  • Gina November 7, 2010 (11:07 am)

    Just did a walk-around of the playground. All gates are locked with the exception of the 45th SW 4 stair entrance. Caution tape is draped around the newer big toy structure, SW part of playground. Climbing rope net has been removed from structure.

    As an observer, I would think that the south side Lander playground entrance would make a better 24/7 access gate, and has no stairs. Plenty of parking on playground side.

    And the cost would be free. Switch lock to 45th entrance if school adminstration feels odd about having two open gates.

    The administration should work on locking off access to the school on the upper grounds, and leave the playground and public right of way open to the neighborhood outside of school hours.

Sorry, comment time is over.