Race to raise funds to improve Aspen school playground | AspenTimes.com

Race to raise funds to improve Aspen school playground

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ASPEN – Every week, Aspen Elementary School kids spend approximately 33 hours in school. Some weeks, they get to run and play around two hours total; when it’s PE week, add another 50 minutes to that amount.

That’s a lot of learning, which is a good thing. But it’s not much time for burning the energy that all kids have, and that can be challenging.

Adding to the challenge at the school is the playground itself, which is outdated (it hasn’t been updated or improved in 13 years), poorly designed for drainage (the city of Aspen had to stop holding soccer games there a few years back because of the mud and muck), and simply is in need of a complete overhaul.

But it won’t be like this for long if the school’s Parent-Teacher Organization has anything to do with it.

“We all realized something needed to be done about the playground,” said parent Lynne Seeman, who is leading the charge with PTO president Stacey Greene. “And we also realized we were going to have to take charge and make it happen.”

To this end, the PTO has organized the school’s first-ever Run for Funds – a 5K race and one-mile family walk – that will take place at 10 a.m. Sunday, beginning at the Lower Moore Field.

The event is something race organizers hope will put a big dent in their fundraising goal.

“Fundraising is challenging, and it’s not something we all have a lot of experience with,” said Seeman. “But a race seemed like a perfect fit for our active community, and we feel confident it will help us meet our goal of ensuring our kids have the playground they deserve.”

They’re off to a good start: The Aspen School District has agreed to match all donations to the playground before June 2, up to $50,000. And the PTO has already held two events – a family dinner during the annual book fair, and a bingo and pizza party where $2,000 was raised – and it is actively soliciting donations from the school community.

Much of the planning and work toward the playground is being donated. Volunteers are staffing the race, and local landscape architect Gyles Thornely – who has a daughter in first grade – is designing the playground free of charge.

“I jumped in because I think this is really important,” said Thornely, who has designed smaller-scale playgrounds as part of the master planning process for large neighborhoods. “And after spending some time watching the kids – in all the grades – on the playground, it was obvious the playground isn’t working well.

“It was very interesting to see what equipment was being used, what the kids were doing, what was being ignored.”

With his findings in mind, Thornely set out to design a dream playground for the school.

“If the sky was the limit, we could do some really amazing things,” Thornely said, “but I think we can certainly make some great improvements in short order.”

First on the list is surveying the entire field to ensure it’s a workable surface for a playground.

“The emphasis is to get the foundation ready. That’s the cake. Then we can start putting the icing on that cake,” Thornely said.

And the icing on this cake will not include run-of-the-mill play structures, which many educators agree are not the best form of exercise for young kids – mentally and physically.

“We are not fundraising large amounts of money to buy expensive playground equipment off the shelf,” said Thornely, adding that his concept for the playground includes active and passive play areas, as well as interactive and educational components. “The only way we will be able to do this is grassroots and by really thinking outside the box. We need to use the resources we have – how can the local welder contribute, the local landscaper …”

In keeping with the “keeping it local” theme, Thornely has designed a playground that plays off the local landscape. South Maroon Hill is a climbing wall; Maroon Lake is a giant sandbox, which connects to Crater Lake via underground tunnels; and much more.

“It’s going to be a great playground for the entire community,” Seeman said. “And we hope the entire community will get behind Sundays’ race.”

The AES Run for Funds is Sunday at 10 a.m., beginning at Lower Moore Field. The cost is $25 ($15 for under 18) or $50 for a family of up to five people. Pre-register Saturday at Peach’s, Jean Roberts Gym and also online at http://www.aesrunforfunds.org. Race-day registration is $10 extra and must be completed by 9:30 a.m. For more information, call Lynne Seeman at 948-4975.

jmcgovern@aspentimes.com