While the elementary school playground still serves as a dexterity-building social center for the 5- to 10- year-old set, students at one local school now face a lesser risk of injury. Outdated equipment has been replaced with colorful props for their young imaginations thanks to a group of volunteers who spent Saturday morning installing the latest phase of a major playground improvement project.
Members of General Electric's Sierra Nevada chapter of "Elfun" volunteers partnered with workers from the Fritsch Elementary Playground Committee to install about $5,000 worth of new equipment for the 600-student school.
Funded by a HUD Community Development grant and the Fritsch Elementary PTA through various fund-raisers, bake sales, parents and local businesses, the three-year effort has already replaced much of the school's aging armada of rust-eaten tetanus risks and teetering teeter-totters with more modern pieces of playground equipment and protective mulch padding.
"When we first started this project three years ago there was literally yellow caution tape around the playground equipment," says Julie Dunlap, co-chair of the Fritsch Playground Committee. "The kids weren't even allowed to play on it."
Standing in a foot of mulch (regulation depth), Elfun volunteer Kris Wickstead of Carson City surveys the frame of a "Tensile Tough Horseshoe Climber" with a socket wrench in hand. Instead of traditional cargo netting or military-grade tire chains, this climber is equipped with soft, polyethylene-coated "hand grips."
Wickstead, who has two young children, said he volunteered on the project because he likes to build things and enjoys helping kids.
"These pieces of equipment aren't like anything I remember," he laughs.
Joining Wickstead on the project are fellow Elfun volunteers Chris McMillen, Scott Breeding, Billy Brooks and Seth Killian.
The key word for the modern playground is "modular." Everything is seemingly designed by the sprawling imagination of an 8-year-old city planner, one that seamlessly joins things like molded polyethylene plastic parabolas with towering gazebos and super-fast silly slides.
"It kind of looks like London Bridge," said 6-year-old Noah Jennings, checking out the just-built, spring-loaded "Multi-Pondo," a revolutionary new stand-up see-saw that, unlike traditional see-saws, allows children of differing weight classes to enjoy the ride without unintentionally hurting each other.
Jennings, like many kids from the neighborhood, enjoys the Fritsch playground during the summer. He says the best part is definitely the rock-climbing wall.
Noah's grandmother, Mary Anne, agrees that safety should always come first, but like many who grew up swinging on Mesozoic-era monkey bars and sliding down loosely-joined baking sheets passed off as slides, she admits a fondness for the old days of splinters, rusty tire chains and the hard, gravel landings of a day of play.
"I suppose everything has to change," she smiles.
The final phase of the Fritsch Elementary playground improvement project will feature a quarter-mile track for the students.
Dunlap says she hopes to get another grant from HUD to help complete it and one day hold a jog-a-thon for the students.
n Contact reporter Peter Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1215.