Dillon Valley Elementary renovates playground with $106K grant
Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers and open spaces.
GOCO’s independent board awards competitive grants to local governments and land trusts and makes investments through Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Created by voters in 1992, GOCO has funded more than 4,500 projects in all 64 counties.
The grants are funded by GOCO’s share of Colorado Lottery revenues, which are divided among GOCO, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Conservation Trust Fund and school construction. For more information, visit www.goco.org.
The playground at Dillon Valley Elementary has a climbing structure that gives kids splinters, a basketball area where students trip on gravel and a sidewalk where they fall on ice.
But not for long.
The school recently received more than $100,000 in grant funds to renovate the schoolyard, and district officials are hoping to start construction this summer and finish before students return in the fall.
The largest elementary school in the county, Dillon Valley serves 424 students, according to the official school count done in October, and the school is home to more students who are not proficient in English than any other Summit elementary.
Parents drive and bus their children from all over the county and beyond so they can attend the county’s only dual-language school. Built in 1972, the International Baccalaureate school is also the site of one of five community gardens in Summit organized by High Country Conservation Center.
Families in Breckenridge, Frisco and Silverthorne have plenty of green spaces to visit, principal Cathy Beck said, but those in Dillon Valley have only the schoolyard.
“Dillon has nothing except this little school playground, which is pretty bare,” she said.
FROM LOTTERY TO SCHOOL PROPERTY
Dillon Valley was one of six public schools in the state to win a grant this year from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), an organization that uses state lottery proceeds enhance the environment and open spaces.
The other five schools are in Adams, Jefferson, Lake, Lincoln and Mesa counties, and all six schools received grants in April ranging from $106,000 to $114,000 to fund the creation of nature-based play areas that inspire more physical activity and outdoor learning. Dillon Valley Elementary received $106,209.
For the first time, GOCO provided funds to the schools during the grant application process to create master plans with a design consultant team.
“We wanted to help schools dream big and make the best use of their space,” GOCO executive director Lise Aangeenbrug said.
Christopher P. Schooler, a landscape and planning professional who led the design team, said the consultants factored in the communities’ demographics and ecology and imagined the kids learning and exploring outside.
GOCO has previously awarded grants to 24 schools, which serve more than 10,000 students, to improve aging playgrounds as well as add outdoor classroom spaces.
“Their track record of creating these playscapes is just phenomenal,” Beck said.
A COMMUNITY-DESIGNED SCHOOLYARD
The grants require kids to be involved in the design process, and the school started by creating a task force that included parents, school district employees and the elementary school’s physical education and art teachers.
Then second-grade students constructed a 3D mural near the media center that featured local ecology and the playground elements students wanted, and a fifth-grade writing group researched other playgrounds to see what components would be possible.
Students put photos of what they wanted on a wall, and kids and parents voted on features with coins, raising just over $300 toward the schoolyard improvements.
At a neighborhood meeting, nearby families with school officials about how to reduce noise impacts from an outdoor classroom, Beck said, and the community expressed a strong desire to keep the soccer field and the baseball backstop.
Summit Youth Baseball and Softball and High Country Soccer Association, two organizations that use the schoolyard, wrote in support of the renovations, as did a nearby church.
Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church council president Henry Risser and pastor Stephanie Kopsch wrote that the playground and field provides “a summer refuge for those who can’t afford more expensive camps and programs.”
Elizabeth Lowe, a Dillon Valley Elementary parent and director of the county’s Head Start program, wrote that the Dillon Vally community is uniquely attached to the school.
“For families without reliable transportation, the playground is the focus of much social interaction and physical activity. Many children that attend DVE do not have access to skiing or other outdoor recreation that Summit County is known for providing. This playground is an important, free resource that families from all income levels can enjoy and use to develop healthy habits,” Lowe wrote.
Colorado Mountain College instructional chair Kristy Johnson wrote that a well-designed play area could build bonds between students and families across language and class barriers.
Jenni Riberdy, a parent of three students at the school and president of the Parent Teacher Student Association, said parents spoke up and some offered to do engineering, excavation and demolition work.
ADDING ASPENS, DITCHING POOR DRAINAGE
Dangerous drainage is arguably the most important issue the new construction will address.
Right now, the main sidewalk acts as a drainage ditch, filling with ice through much of the school year, Riberdy said. “We’ve had parents fall, teachers fall, kids fall all the time.”
The sidewalk will be widened to enable plowing, and then a trench will be dug alongside the path and lined with mature aspen trees — an addition made possible by a $15,000 parent donation.
Riberdy said students will then have shade in the summer and separate areas to sit and talk.
The other side of the sidewalk closer to the building will be landscaped with boulders and plants, and old plastic and metal play equipment will be replaced with natural elements.
Swings and climbing structures will be upgraded, seating will be added for parents to relax while they supervise their kids, and the community garden will be better incorporated as a school learning area. An outdoor classroom area will be added toward the southeast corner.
“A lot of us as parents too are really excited that they’re going to have an outdoor classroom,” Riberdy said. “We’re really thankful for all the community support.”
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