A plan to install a playground at Charlottesville’s Walker Upper Elementary School is moving closer to fruition, with construction on track to begin in June.
Fundraising for the project is mostly completed, and the School Board granted its permission at a meeting last week. The next step will be to secure approval from the City Council. The group leading the project, A Playground at Walker, sought to raise $90,000 for construction.
“I support the idea of having a playground at Walker because I see a lot of kids playing on the playground at Burnley-Moran,” said Eva Reed, a student at Burnley-Moran, during the meeting. “And I feel like they should have that same feeling at Walker.”
Another Burnley-Moran student said she wants a playground when she goes to Walker next school year.
“I support the idea of having a Walker playground because students are working, and when they have their rest, they should be able to use their energy on a playground,” said Mira Figueroa.
In the 31 years that Walker has served fifth- and sixth-graders, students have never had an actual playground. At recess, they can play on fields and on a blacktop that has four-square and other game markings.
Christa Bennett, a Charlottesville parent, is spearheading the playground effort.
“It’s something so obvious that we didn’t have,” said Juandiego Wade, a Charlottesville School Board member who helped Bennett on the project. “Once the community found out about it, support started coming in, so I just wanted to thank you for just bringing it to the community’s attention.”
At the School Board meeting, Bennett said, “The research is indisputable that having enough play time and access to play options … promotes brain development in our kids. It helps students better regulate their own emotions and actually improves their academic test scores. That’s because play grows the brain itself in positive ways.”
The city’s parks and recreation department supports the project, according to a letter sent to the School Board. The department has conducted a site visit and is advising on designs and equipment.
“Working with parks and rec is what working with local government should be,” Bennett said during the presentation.
If Walker is turned into an early childhood center as part of the current reconfiguration plan, the department and parents want the playground equipment to still be accessible to Charlottesville children. To that end, parents and parks and rec staffers are looking to purchase equipment that can easily be moved to another location.
A Playground at Walker will hold a community forum in March to discuss potential designs. If there is enough money, Bennett said the group also wants to create an outdoor classroom space, which the school has requested.
Bennett said the plan is to install the playground equipment on the Walker soccer field near the school building and then add park benches to separate the soccer field from the playground.
“It will be nice for kids to use and for the neighborhood to use,” she said.
School Board Chairwoman Jennifer McKeever said Bennett has been “working tirelessly” to make the playground a reality.
“Thank you so much for your energy and your presentation,” she said. “I really appreciate it and know it’s been a really long road.”