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School playground work under way in Cannelton

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Money still needed to fulfill principal's vision

By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

CANNELTON - Volunteers went to work on the Myers Grade School playground Tuesday, scraping up wood chips that served to break the falls of frolicking children and the railroad ties intended to keep the material "in the lines."

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The chips will be replaced with inch-long, slender, factory-engineered wood-fiber pieces, elementary Principal Ginger Conrad explained. The places under swings where young feet erode hollows will get heavy rubberized wear mats.

Work under way now is Phase 1 of a project that still requires approximately $78,000 to complete, Conrad said Tuesday.

"We have money for the first phase," she said, putting that figure at approximately $27,000. A second phase will bring "equipment and cushiony surfaces" at a cost of $50,000, she said.

"I'm excited about where we are," the principal said. "We put a call out to the community, and the community answered it."

The volunteers clearing the existing wood chips Tuesday saved the school corporation $6,100, she said. They included Jerry Ball, Phillip Ball, Chris Herzog, Tommy James, John Young III and Danny Cronin.

"Play curbing," which is manufactured specifically for playgrounds, will replace the railroad ties the volunteers removed, Conrad said. All of the new materials will dry more quickly after rains than those being replaced.

"There are many days we can't use the playground due to rain," Conrad said.

A 10-member committee was set to repaint the existing playground equipment, she added. As has been reported on local television stations, she received an offer for free equipment from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Conrad wasn't sure if she wanted to accept an offer from an organization that has a noble purpose, but whose adherents have been known to pursue it in sometimes-illegal ways, such as throwing paint onto people wearing fur coats.

The principal said the PETA offer was based on "a new program for them" and would have provided decals with anti-obesity, pro-vegetation messages to place on teeter-totters. In return for the opportunity to display their messages, the organization would have provided money for new playground equipment.

PETA's representative wasn't entirely sure what to do when informed the school has neither teeter-totters nor plans to install any, Conrad said. And because she wasn't sure what the organization might require of her, the principal was hesitant to agree to anything.

"I appreciate them reaching out, but I wasn't hearing a finite 'this is what we're required to do.' I appreciate anyone reaching out to kids," she said. She hadn't made a final decision about the offer as of Tuesday.

Donations to the project have included $5,600 from the Perry County Community Foundation, "one of the biggest donors," Conrad said, $4,000 from an alumni association and $1,300 from students buying popcorn and ice cream.

It's neat to see kids who find a penny on the ground bring it in and drop it in our can," the principal said. "And we get a lot of nice notes with donations from past alumni, administrators and parents. We like to read them to the kids."

Another $6,000 has been provided by people who've simply heard of the effort.

Conrad said she's always searching for grants, but many she finds involve national competition. When officials responsible for them see the school's low student population, they direct their money elsewhere.

"Ours is a community playground," Conrad noted. "We don't lock it up at night."

"It's nice to see a dream come true," she said as the workers continued their efforts outside the building. "It's pretty overwhelming."

Evansville's television station WFIE quoted Conrad in a May report as saying the playground looked almost exactly the same as it did when she was a child.

"Well, I know these swings were here when I was a girl," Conrad said. "I am 54 so they must be at least that old."

School Secretary Jane Effinger-Hayden said credit for the progress so far goes to the principal.

"She's the catalyst," she said. "This is her vision."