By Amy Bounds
Daily Camera staff writer
University Hill Elementary School's aging kindergarten and preschool playground is getting a nature-inspired makeover.
The school recently was awarded a $100,000 Great Outdoors Colorado grant to build a new playground and add other outdoor features.
Altogether, GOCO awarded $659,115 to eight school play yard projects across the state using lottery proceeds. The grants require the schools to partner with local governments; University Hill is partnering with Boulder's Parks and Recreation Department.
Last year, 16 schools also won $1.5 million in the first round of school play yard GOCO grants, including Boulder's Horizons K-8.
Horizons is using the money to build a new adventure and nature play space after losing much of its playground in a remodel. The remodel left only one play structure for 340 students, and the school's playground was the only one in the Frasier Meadows neighborhood.
Tina Briggs, of Boulder's Parks and Recreation Department, said the city is excited about working with another school.
"It provides additional opportunities for play in the neighborhood," she said. "Nature play will be a really fantastic addition."
Principal Ina Rodriguez-Myer said University Hill's PTA has been "saving and saving" to pay for playground improvements. But with more than half the students qualifying for federally subsidized lunches, she said, raising the needed money hasn't been quick.
The grant allows the school to tackle the most pressing need, the preschool and kindergarten playground, she said. The playground equipment is old, not made for students that young and wouldn't meet codes if installed today.
"We need to provide the correct outdoor space for kids," she said. "A lot of their learning happens outside — sharing, taking turns, dealing with problems."
Kindergarten parent Kerry White, a landscape architect specializing in outdoor play spaces, wrote the grant proposal with help from parent Melisa Devincenzi.
"We're absolutely thrilled because grants of this size don't come along very often," White said. "It's important for students to have the opportunity to learn and be in an outdoor environment."
She helped the school create a master plan for the entire campus, working with students, staff members and neighbors. Students had the opportunity to fill out a visual survey, picking their favorite play equipment and features based on photos. Students in the after-school program also used clay and other materials to create models of their ideas.
"They modeled tube slides and obstacle courses and all kinds of great playground elements," White said.
The final concept plan includes a new asphalt play pad with painted sports courts and games, additions to the existing play structure of climbing boulders and ropes, an outdoor classroom area and new shade trees.
The project also includes a nature-based play area with a sand digging spot, a crawl-through log and climbing boulders that will be next to the school's garden. The last element is a gravel walking path around the school's multi--use fields that can be used by the community when school's not in session.
Rodriguez-Myer said the goal is to use the new walking path to make the school's fields more accessible, especially for University of Colorado students.
"What's really unique about our playground area is it's used by CU students," she said. "We could either fight it or say, 'Hey, let's do something that would be beneficial to everyone.'"
The $150,000 project budget includes contributions from businesses and in-kind donations. CU freshmen, as part of a community service project, will work on building the walking path and nature-based sand play area in August. The bulk of the work is set to start in June 2015.
"It wouldn't be possible without real partnership with the community," Rodriguez-Myer said.