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Phoenix Elementary gets new play structure

PHOENIX — Students won’t return from recess with splinters next fall at Phoenix Elementary.

A new play structure will be installed this summer to replace a wooden one nearly 25 years old. A combination of construction excise tax and grant funds will pay for the $65,000 project.

“My kids were coming in with huge splinters,” said Dan Preskenis, who taught fourth- and fifth-graders last year. “We were losing school time with taking care of splinters.”

Preskenis pushed the project and wrote grants to gain funds to provide the new structure, Principal Jeff Carpenter said.

“It’s really just people coming together and saying this was a bad situation, and we need to do something different for our kids,” said Preskenis. The playground is well used by the community when classes are not in session, he said, noting a number of homes and apartments are nearby.

School personnel worked with PlayCraft of Grants Pass to design the new structure. Rather than have a taller structure that would serve fewer students, officials opted for a lower, more spread-out design.

“We didn’t want anything too high, but we wanted a lot of space for climbing,” said Preskenis. “Our kids need exercise. The centerpiece is climbing stuff, so it really works on the kids' lower as well as upper bodies.”

A 71-foot-long arm with play apparatus is crossed by another 33-feet long. A wheelchair ramp will lead to a deck with five slides. Ground cover will include gravel topped with ground cloths and then wood fiber. The structure will fill most of the available space.

Efforts to resurface, repaint and maintain the 25-year-old wood structure had reached an endpoint.

“It just got to the point where it was deteriorating and taking enormous work to keep it going,” said Prekenis.

Fundraisers included two years of jog-a-thons organized by PE teacher Heidi Roberts, sale of school supplies by office staff members Janet Goldsmith and Lisa Oblath, and collection of box tops redeemed for funds by teacher Karen Alley. About $1,000 was raised through the efforts.

Grants include $5,000 from The West Family Foundation, $5,000 from the Olsrud Family Fund and $3,803 from the Eunice Gray Fund. A total of $50,000 in construction excise tax money will be used.

Oregon approved an excise tax on new construction to aid school districts in 2007. Phoenix-Talent School District started levying the tax in the 2012-13 fiscal year.

“The board studied it very carefully and is considering constituents when it comes to exercising our taxing ability,” said Superintendent Teresa Sayre, explaining why adoption came later. Money must be used for capital projects costing at least $5,000.

District crews have already cleared the old apparatus off the site, said Business Manager David Marshall. Contractor Dennis Blesser will install the new structure. The work in specialized due to liability that could result from a complex piece of equipment that was assembled or anchored incorrectly, said Marshall.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com