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Group ready to break ground on Walker Upper Elementary playground

Students at Walker Upper Elementary most likely will have a playground when they head back to school in August, with construction set to start within the next four weeks.

A $15,000 contribution from the City Council, a matching grant from the Building Goodness Foundation and $26,418 from the Charlottesville School Board helped get the project across the finish line this week after nearly two years of fundraising and planning. The division funding will come from the board’s year-end fund balance.

“Everything’s coming together this week,” said Christa Bennett, a parent who has spearheaded the effort to install a playground at the school. “It’s really exciting.”

Bennett is also running for a seat on the city School Board.

Bennett and the A Playground at Walker team, made up of parents and community members, raised $134,000 to make the playground a reality. The contributions this week made up the $56,418 difference in funds raised and what was needed.

In the 31 years that Walker has served Charlottesville’s fifth- and sixth-graders, students have never had an actual playground, though they can play on fields and a blacktop. The structure was requested by students.

Bennett said construction could start in two weeks at the earliest and wrap up by mid-August, at the latest. The equipment will be installed on the soccer field near the Walker building.

“Many thanks to the city and to the School Board,” she said. “We’re just so thrilled to be able to do this for our students.”

Getting the project off the ground has meant overcoming pandemic-related delays and last-minute hiccups, including the need to raise more money to bring a pathway up to ADA code to allow public access to the playground from the Crow Recreational Center’s parking lot. The path upgrades cost about $76,000, according to a report provided to the School Board.

“There was a lot of engagement and a really great process to get us to this point, and it’s really exciting to think that our students could have that when they start school next fall,” board Chairwoman Lisa Larson-Torres said.

The School Board signed off on the $26,418 contribution at its Thursday meeting held at the Martin Luther King Jr. Performing Arts Center, the board’s first regular in-person meeting in more than a year. Kim Powell, the division’s assistant superintendent for finance and operations, proposed the idea of using some of the fund balance.

“The community has gotten it to this point and it’s this close,” Powell said at the meeting.

The playground equipment cost about $69,000 and installation will cost $27,000, according to the report. The equipment includes eight swings, two accessible structures and a slide. Walker students voted on the final design in November.

In a survey, the top activities that students said they like to participate in at recess are swinging, running and climbing. The purchased structures check those boxes.

The equipment has been purchased and was delivered in early May, Bennett said. All that was left was securing the additional funding for construction and the pathway.

“We’re getting a $200,000 playground for $40,000 of taxpayer investment money,” board member Jennifer McKeever said.

The playground installation will be overseen by MTS Recreations, while the general contractor Digs will focus on the ADA pathway and stormwater management aspects of the site plan, according to the group.

“It’s a great idea,” board member Sherry Kraft said. “I’m excited that it’s this close and that we can do this.”

Bennett said she hopes the new playground will be a bright spot for students next school year as they return to full-time in-person school.

“I was so excited to give this to our students, even before the pandemic,” she said. “But now, after what our students have been through for the past year, I think it represents hope. And I think it represents not just building; it’s rebuilding, after the year that we’ve had.”


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