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All for fun, fun for all

Students will return to Jacksonville Elementary School later this summer to find a brand-new playground.

The Medford School District deemed the old structures unsafe and tore them down in February, which spurred a five-month fundraising campaign by the school's Parent Teacher Organization to raise more than $100,000 and fill the playground with a new, safer set of equipment.

The district, responsible for monitoring the safety of playground equipment at each of the district's 14 elementary schools, deemed the play structures unsafe this winter, but it had no obligation to replace the typically pricey equipment.

"There was quite a bit of sorrow to see the old structures go," said Rick Snyder, Jacksonville Elementary principal.

After the old structures were torn out, students spent their recess playing with hula hoops and sidewalk chalk instead. Snyder said the lack of play equipment lit a fire under students and the PTO, which set out to acquire new structures.

Determined to rebuild the playground for her two children who attend the school — and for the rest of the students — PTO member Sandy Metwally kicked off a fundraising campaign.

"Everyone was really behind it," said Metwally, who applied for grants to build new structures that were estimated to cost more than $100,000.

Metwally said parent donations yielded $18,000 for the campaign, which began in late February.

"They raised an incredible amount of money in a really short amount of time," said Snyder.

The PTO held a series of small fundraisers, including popcorn sales and a spaghetti feed, while Metwally was hard at work applying for foundation grants and corporate sponsors to fund the project, which she estimated could have cost up to $170,000 with excavation, construction and asphalt costs added in.

Fundraising activities such as a school penny drive allowed students to empty their piggy banks and feel like they were contributing to the playground, Metwally said.

"Every kid could contribute. It made the kids feel great," she said. "They all felt like they were part of the project."

Jacksonville's Parks Committee donated $10,000 to the project, money earmarked for a basketball court years ago that never came together.

And the school district covered $20,000 worth of expenses for items such as wood chips.

More than 100 volunteers came together over a weekend in mid-July to install the equipment, which features a more accessible structure Metwally believes students will enjoy.

"There's lots of overhead structures, balancing areas, climbing structures and slides," said Metwally. "It has activities for all levels. Any kid can play on it and not feel like they aren't strong enough."

In the early phases of the fundraising campaign, Metwally stressed the importance of having a functional playground on elementary school campuses, citing the nation's high childhood obesity rate.

The playground is receiving its last few touches this week, including a bed of wood chips to improve safety.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new playground will take place at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 4, at the school.

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or tristow@mailtribune.com.

Rick Gonzales spreads wood chips at Jacksonville Elementary School’s new playground Wednesday. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch