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Abraham Lincoln Elementary parents raise money for new playground

Parents of Abraham Lincoln Elementary students are almost as eager as their kids for a new playground for the school.

“The current playground is really sad,” said one mom, Bonnie Havens, who will have two sons — one in kindergarten and one in third grade — attending ALE this fall.

The playground, built about 15 years ago, is more suited for 2- to 5-year-olds than 8- to 10-year-olds and only accommodates about 15 students at a time, Havens said.

“We've got a good number of swing sets, a climbing dome, one large slide, tire swings and an anemic, pathetic play structure,” she said.

About a year ago, Havens and other ALE Booster Club parents began fundraising for a new playground. The school and local businesses rallied behind them.

Of the 12 grants she’s applied for, Havens has secured two — one for $25,000 from the Lowe’s Foundation and one for $10,000 from the West Family Foundation.

Other business, including Southern Oregon Pediatrics, Orely’s Stoves and Spas, and Foothills Construction, also chipped in, and the Lithia Chrysler Jeep Dodge dealership hosted a Drive 4 Kids fundraiser that brought in about $1,100.

Parents also contributed by making baskets for a silent auction that raised $1,900, and students brought in coins for an ALE Penny Drive that raised about $1,600.

Havens said one first-grader brought in bags and bags of coins that she had inherited from her grandfather. That student's donation alone was about $700.

“It’s been pretty amazing to see how the kids have stepped up because of how much they want this playground,” said ALE Principal Patti Frazier.

So far, the booster club has raised about $50,000 for the new playground.

“We need another $15,000 to get a really nice structure — but not anything over the top — as well as picnic tables and benches,” Havens said. “We’re looking at something with some height to it, with slides coming off, and with walking bridges, ramps and a net feature. And we want something that kids can jump on and off so they aren't waiting in line.”

This month, Havens arranged play dates with other families at various playgrounds around town so they could determine which structures their kids preferred.

“We want to make sure every penny we are spending is on something they are using,” she said.

Frazier said 460 kids are projected to attend the school this fall.

First- through third-grade students have three recesses a day, and fourth- through sixth-grade students have two recesses a day, Frazier said. Kindergartners get one recess.

If they are not on the playground, the students are playing wall ball, basketball, soccer, hop scotch, tag or four square, Frazier said.

“I think if we had more equipment, we’d see more kids using the equipment,” she said. “And if they don’t have to wait in lines they are more apt to use it.”

Frazier said the current playground is inspected regularly and is safe to use. However, many of the parts have been decommissioned and, therefore, are getting harder to find.

“If we don’t start doing something now then our kids won’t have a play structure to play on,” said Janelle Dunlevy, who is the mother of two ALE students and treasurer of the booster club.

After school and during the summer, the playground and nearby track are open to the public. The nearest park, Donahue - Frohnmayer Park,  is more than two miles away.

“There are a lot of kids who are within walking distance of the school and would be able to access the playground,” Dunlevy said. “Right now there is really no reason to play there, unless you’re playing football or something.”

“(ALE) is the newest school with the worst playground,” Dunlevy said.

If the booster club is able to raise the funds necessary to purchase the primary structure, the Medford School District will resurface the area under the playground and install it over spring break, Havens said.

“We are looking at leaving the current playground there and adding the new structure to it,” Frazier said. “Over time, as we earn the money, we want to take out the old equipment and replace it with new pieces. The whole idea is to have lots for the kids to do.”

 Reach reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.