Community Support Bringing New Playground to Hardin Park Elementary School

Published Thursday, April 7, 2016 at 4:00 pm
progress shot

The all-inclusive new playground at Hardin Park Elementary School won’t be finished this spring, however a portion of the playground should open to students in late spring.

Breathing hard from his labors on a sunny but cool April morning, a grinning Brian Johnson captured the spirit of the Hardin Park playground project with his remark that “we’ll all do just about anything for children.”

The desire to help children, and especially to make outdoor play more accessible for children with disabilities, has been the driving force behind years of planning and fundraising for the installation of a new playground at Hardin Park School, the largest K-8 school in Watauga County.

gp with base

This is what the playground looked like in the morning compared to later that day. See above photo

For more than 10 years, Hardin Park Principal Mary Smalling and others at the school have had a vision for a new playground that would better serve all children at the school. However, there has never been funding in the school system budget to pay the estimated cost of $225,000. Generating those funds at the school level is no easy task, but steady efforts by the school’s Parent Teacher Organization, school faculty, individual parents, and other supporters have raised about $145,000 for the cause and generous contributions of materials and labor have helped cut costs, allowing the work to get underway this year as additional fund raising continues.

Johnson & Smalling

Principal Mary Smalling (right) stands with Brian Johnson, the urban design specialist for Boone and father of a kindergarten student at Hardin Park. Johnson was instrumental in getting this project started.

Principal Smalling describes Brian Johnson, the urban design specialist for the Town of Boone and the father of a kindergarten student at Hardin Park, as the key player in bringing together the right people and resources to get the project underway this year. Johnson said he was deeply touched when he first learned about the project and the needs it would address.

“It breaks your heart to think about special needs kids not being able to come out here and play,” he commented.

“It’s been an amazing community effort to get to this point,” said Principal Smalling. “In addition to cash contributions from hundreds of people, businesses, and groups over the years, we’ve had big donations of gravel this spring, support from Watauga County and the Town of Boone, lunches donated for our work crews by local restaurants, and volunteers contributing their labor for site preparation and equipment installation. If it hadn’t been for all the community support we’ve received, we’d be nowhere close to where we are today. We are very grateful for how people are supporting our students. It really makes you proud to be part of this community.”

While the playground will not be fully completed this spring, the first equipment is expected to be in use in late spring, provided that the weather is favorable for continued work.

Most of the project funding has been raised in small donations of $25-100 and through the ongoing efforts of the school’s Parent Teacher Organization (PTO). The school is continuing to raise funds to complete the project and donations of any size are welcome. Persons and businesses wanting to make a contribution can send a check to Hardin Park School, 361 Jefferson Rd., Boone 28607 with “playground project” in the memo line. The school is also holding a 5K Extreme Donut Dash May 7th to raise additional funds. Team and individual registrations are available through the school website.

Hardin Park School has an enrollment of 816 students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. The school offers the broadest range of services for children with disabilities of any K-8 school in the WCS system and consistently exceeds statewide performance on the End-of-Grade tests administered in grades 3-8.

Elliott & vol

WCS Supt. Scott Elliott breaking a sweat and taking part in some of the project’s labor.

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