By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
When Roxhill Elementary is moved from its current crumbling campus to 90+-year-old EC Hughes in fall 2018, its parents, teachers, and other supporters hope to have something special for the students that’s not part of the district’s modernization project: An improved playground.
School supporters, who have just relaunched their organization (formerly the PTSA) as Friends of Roxhill Elementary, met this week to talk about the playground aspirations and to get inspiration and advice from local parents/advocates who have already helmed playground projects.
Right now, the EC Hughes playground (as shown in our top photo) is mostly asphalt – all too common at older schools, and not an optimal use of the space.
One of the schools with a renovated playground thanks to a community campaign is Pathfinder K-8 on Pigeon Point.
(WSB photo: Community volunteers painting the “river” on the Pathfinder playground in 2014)
Pathfinder parent Susan Melrose came to the Roxhill meeting to explain what it took to raise a quarter-million dollars for their project, which had been stalled a while before she took on the task of reviving it.
First – a committee had to be formed, including a rep from Seattle Public Schools and a design firm.
That was a step Roxhill already has taken, said parent Jenny Rose Ryan – they’re talking to the district (which has agreed to contribute some money to the playground plan)
Melrose noted that just designing the Pathfinder playground cost $25,000. So they first sought a Small and Simple city grant to cover that. Seeking partnerships can be helpful (Capital One helped with the Pathfinder project – with volunteer help as well as cash – she said). And more city/county grant money covered much of the rest of the bill. “We wanted to leave raising money from our school community for last,” Melrose explained.
They had dine-out fundraisers with big turnout at local restaurants such as Marination Ma Kai and Pecado Bueno. “Between those two, we raised more than $5,000, and all we did was go out for dinner.” Melrose also noted that Pathfinder kept a blog-format website (see it here) chronicling how the playground happened. A crowdfunding page kicked off fundraising inside their school community, and they solicited local business sponsorships. They got the last “little chunk of money” with a paddle-raiser at the 2015 school auction, and then went out to bid, and built it; the playground’s grand opening was in October 2015.
Also guesting at the meeting to offer advice and experiences was Mat McBride, who led the community project to replace the Roxhill Park “castle” playground (not a school-grounds project; Roxhill Park is part of the city park system); the new one opened in 2013.
(WSB photo from ‘Castle Park’ playground opening)
“I got involved because I went to community meetings,” began McBride (who has long done that for other types of community advocacy, including chairing the Delridge Neighborhoods District Council). He told the story of how he got semi-drafted into it and then had to rustle up volunteers, figure out the grant process, form “interesting partnerships,” and more.
He talked about companies that get involved in this type of project, such as Leathers and Associates (involved with the old and new Roxhill Park playgrounds) and KaBOOM! (involved in Delridge and High Point projects) and advised visiting such sites.
McBride also advised standing firm on what you want in a playground: “The rope climber that’s over at Roxhill (Park), we just put our foot down and said, we’re having one,” despite Parks Department pushback. He added that if you hire a designer to spec things out, “that’s the fun part, like if you order off an a-la-carte menu … you pick what you want within the budget that you have.”
“You’d be surprised at what six really big rocks can do,” McBride quipped. (A discussion about rocks’ merits ensued, including a mention of the rocks to climb on and jump off at White Center Heights Park.)
One attendee wondered if there had been solicitation of sponsors yet. It was suggested that Target might be approachable, given that it’s nearby.
“We need to be a 501(c)(3) (first),” group leader Amanda Kay noted, and the group decided to pursue that status. She also stressed that while it seems early in the process, “this is a BIG project,” so they have to get going as soon as possible.
Ryan suggested putting a suggestion box at the school for “playground hopes and dreams” to be dropped in, and another group member volunteered to make it. She said her daughter had told her to come to the Monday night meeting because it was going to be about the playground – her daughter wants to see swings at the playground.
Melrose noted that in the process the Pathfinder playground went through, three community meetings are required, starting with “hopes and dreams,” and they plugged into the Pigeon Point community (near the school) too.
Other advice: Keep the community informed and engaged (McBride noted that the Roxhill Park project had provided numerous updates and needs requests for publication on WSB). Showing up “at every community meeting” is effective too, said McBride – ask the person who runs the meeting if you can have a few minutes to make your pitch – and reaching out to volunteer organizations. “You have to have an elevator pitch – you have to be very direct – what you’re asking for, who will benefit,” etc., he added. “Craft a message that speaks to (altruism), which is inherent in most of us, and you’ll get a high degree of turnout there.”
Approaching businesses, you can certainly go to the big ones, but the smaller local businesses tend to be the most generous and engaged, McBride added.
Then – “there’s a second half of that – once you’ve secured a commitment – that’s, keeping it.” He mentioned that they had used some online tools to sign up people to be at a certain place at a certain time to accomplish a certain task. “By leaving it (vague), you’ll lose 50 percent of what you’ve secured,” he warned. “You’ll want to plan out your workforce.”
Next steps for the playground project include city-grant pursuit. Though the school year ends in less than two weeks, Friends of Roxhill Elementary intends to meet over the summer to keep the momentum going. You can contact the group at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also at this week’s meeting:
ROXHILL BOG: Principal Tarra Patrick said that SPS Superintendent Dr. Larry Nyland will be visiting the school this Thursday, including visiting Roxhill Bog with students. Also, “Bog Day” is coming up on Saturday, with an 11 am-3 pm event at Roxhill Bog, featuring lunch, mariachi, maybe some drumming. “The kids will be giving tours of the bog itself,” after studying it as part of science classes. Amanda Kay noted that it’s unfortunate the school’s new location at EC Hughes will be too far for students to continue walking to the bog.