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Kennedy Coyotes may have run of new playground this school year

Rick Wagner • Oct 12, 2018 at 3:48 PM

KINGSPORT — Design work on a new Kennedy Elementary playground is moving forward, and Kingsport City Schools officials say the campus could have a new playground this academic year.

The movement is thanks to a Kingsport Board of Education decision, at first a non-voting consensus at a summer school board retreat, to begin helping fund playgrounds. That was followed by a 5-0 vote Thursday night to hire Barge Design Solutions for “civil and landscape architectural design services,” which is legal language encompassing playground design. The firm has and has offices in Tennessee, including one in Kingsport, Alabama, Georgia, Ohio and Texas. The contract is for $17,750.

“This is something that is long overdue,” board President Carrie Upshaw said before the vote. Kennedy students in the audience gave coyote howls following the vote. (The school mascot is the Coyote.)

The school system funding is an about-face from a former policy that playgrounds were funded by donations and school fundraisers, such as walk-a-thons by students and a half-marathon fundraiser by Kennedy Principal Janice Irvin, who raised almost $30,000 for the project in the Flying Pig race in her hometown of Cincinnati.

EQUIPMENT MAY DATE BACK TO 1950S

Irvin said parents have told her much of the playground equipment at the school dates back to its days as a Sullivan County school and that some pieces are likely from the 1950s. Aside from her $29,100 from the half-marathon, a student walkathon raised $5,000 and student Layne Knight raised $500 through her church, Morrison Chapel United Methodist. The original estimate or goal was $160,000. Irvin said the Parent Teacher Association at the school is actively raising money this academic year but likely will not earmark any funds for the project until the spring.

“I have met with the (school) district Administration and the Procurement Department and we are moving forward pending Board of Education approval,” Irvin said recently. Since the school board approved professional services for the project, she said a scope of the bid will be developed.

WHAT DOES THURSDAY VOTE MEAN?

“This is the start of the scope of work,” Assistant Superintendent of Schools Andy True said Thursday before the meeting.

The firm will develop the bid specifications so the project can put put out to bid. Unlike the Johnson “castle” playground project, funded by private donations and school fundraising and scheduled for a community build in March of 2019, the Kennedy project will be paid for by a mixture of school fundraising and school system dollars. 

“I am hopeful that our school will have a new playground by the end of this (2018-19) school year,” Irvin said, a timeline True agreed could become reality. Some of the newer playground elements may remain in place, but she said most of the playground equipment is past its prime by far.

PROJECT GOT NATIONAL READERSHIP

The Associated Press picked up an article about the Kennedy playground predicament, and it appeared on newspaper websites across the United States, which gave Irvin hope that a benefactor might come forward (possibly someone like talk show host Ellen Degeneres, who, like Oprah Winfrey, is known for helping fund worthy projects) to pitch in.

However, it wasn’t a national figure that came to the rescue by the school board. During a retreat this summer, the board reached a consensus that it would reverse its policy of not funding school playgrounds, and given the condition of the Kennedy playground indicated it likely would be first in line. 

Still, there is time for Ellen Degeneres and others to help.

Are you reading this, Ellen or Oprah Winfrey?

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