Strawberry Park and Soda Creek elementary school students have begun a "Penny Drop" fundraising effort to collect change and raise money for new playgrounds, accessible to all children, at the two schools. The competition began Feb. 11 and concludes Feb. 22, with a cumulative fundraising goal of $7,000. Pictured is the collection display at Strawberry Park, with jugs for each grade.

Photo by Mike McCollum

Strawberry Park and Soda Creek elementary school students have begun a "Penny Drop" fundraising effort to collect change and raise money for new playgrounds, accessible to all children, at the two schools. The competition began Feb. 11 and concludes Feb. 22, with a cumulative fundraising goal of $7,000. Pictured is the collection display at Strawberry Park, with jugs for each grade.

Pennies to fund playground

'Penny Drop' to raise money at Strawberry Park and Soda Creek

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If you go

What: Public meetings to gather input about potential new playgrounds for Strawberry Park and Soda Creek elementary schools

When: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Soda Creek gym; and 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at Centennial Hall on 10th Street.

Contact: Julie Taulman at 819-1548.

— If the old adage that a penny saved is a penny earned holds true, then students at Strawberry Park and Soda Creek elementary schools are on their way to securing two new playgrounds.

On Monday, the students began a "Penny Drop" contest with the goal of raising a cumulative sum of $7,000 at the two schools through Feb. 22. The money, which is gathered in large plastic jugs assigned to each grade level, will be used toward replacing the wooden playground at Strawberry Park and building a playground at the new Soda Creek campus.

"The kids seem very excited, and we've already gotten all kinds of money - Australian, Canadian and even some pesos," Strawberry Park Principal Brenda Barr said. "In the first few days, we have raised $200, and that is going straight to the playground."

To provide a little morale boost during the fundraising contest, school officials and the community group spearheading the playground effort mounted large artist renditions of the "universal playgrounds" at Strawberry Park and Soda Creek. The playgrounds are designed to accommodate children with mental and physical disabilities as well as able-bodied children.

"We are also considering letting students in the grade that raises the most money play on the playground first after the ribbon cutting," Barr said.

Julie Taulman, a Strawberry Park parent who has spearheaded the effort to build the playgrounds, said Barr and Soda Creek Principal Judy Harris approached the playground committee about the "Penny Drop" idea.

"They felt like it was some way for the kids to contribute and feel like the playgrounds are really their own," Taulman said. "You see the kids having a great time with it. They are circling around the jugs dropping their money in every day."

Scott Gorman, a project design consultant with the firm hired to build the playgrounds, said the preliminary designs displayed at the schools will be presented to the public at two community meetings next week.

"The community meetings are a good way to solicit input from parents, students and the communities at both schools," he said. "We'll meet after that to discuss input and make some adjustments based on that input."

The "Penny Drop" is part of the playground committee's goal of raising $250,000 from the community as part of a three-pronged fundraising approach. On Feb. 7, the Education Fund Board gifted up to $250,000 toward the project, which takes care of one of the three prongs. The playground committee hopes to raise an additional $250,000 through grants.

Taulman said she is unsure of a fundraising "drop-dead" date to ensure the project is completed prior to the start of school next year, but Gorman hopes it's as soon as possible.

"These structures - because of the size of the structures - there is a good lead time for manufacturing purposes. And we need eight weeks to manufacture the equipment," said Gorman, who noted that because of construction concerns, the Soda Creek playground may not be built until October.

"We are trying to target having a design agreed upon by the beginning of March and making modifications soon after that," he said.

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