by Jose Aguayo
MONTPELIER — Undeterred by a rejection to a $25,000 grant request in 2014, a group of Union Elementary parents and staff banded together to find ways to upgrade the existing playgrounds. Then along the way, they built a broad coalition and landed a grant that will match up to $150,000 of the money raised in cash or in-kind donations.
The Union Playground Project Fundraising Committee was formed the Fall of 2014 and the project to upgrade the playground, likened to an old-fashioned Amish barn raising by Union Elementary Principal Chris Hennessey, is well on its way to meeting the challenge. Hennessey is often seen engaged in the roundtable discussions, as well as lending his insight and support to the group.
While the first $25,000 grant required the project to be ready to break ground within weeks of the application in fall 2014, the current grant allows for a window of time to plan and fundraise for the project, however, groundbreaking must take place in 2016. More importantly, the grant will allow anyone willing to donate their time and/or money to get involved.
University of Vermont assistant professor Stephanie Hurley, a Montpelier resident, was among those who donated their time and talent to the effort by engaging a group of 20 of her landscape design students on a class project to come up with various proposals for the lower and upper playgrounds at Union Elementary, as well as the adjacent hillsides. Their final design ideas were on display at the school the evening of December 14 for community members to view and comment. All Union Elementary was invited to view and make comments on the proposals the following day. An effort will be made to incorporate feedback from the public and students (recorded on sticky notes that were placed on each design board) into the final design proposal.
At the moment, the lower playground has a car that was carved out of wood by Billie Quittner, as well as a beautiful outdoor woodburned xylophone built by Gampo Wickenheiser, both UES parents.
As the project nears the groundbreaking phase, the Union Playground Project Fundraising Committee has decided to hire a full-time manager to coordinate the various efforts currently underway. Thus far, fundraisers including a yard sale, donations from UES parents and grandparents and other events, have raised around $15,000.
Similarly, Chris Green, a UES parent with the nonprofit ORCA Media in Montpelier, has been working on a video about the playground project that will be shown during the “Give it UPP” Auction Gala taking place at 6:30 p.m. on February 13 at Vermont College’s Alumni Hall. The event will include silent and live auctions, as well as a concert by The Dave Keller Band. Another UES parent, Jeffrey Farrell will be preparing and organizing food for the event, while the Three Penny Taproom will operate a cash bar.
Among other things, the new project might include a shaded area or structure to protect children from the sun’s harmful UV rays.