KINGSPORT — It’s no secret that city schools have been working hard to install modern, safe, accessible playgrounds. New projects were recently revealed at Kennedy and Johnson schools.

The Kingsport Board of Education set a goal of $50,000 to be raised in private donations that would be matched by public dollars. In less than 100 days of active fundraising — during a pandemic — Lincoln School rose to the challenge.

“Lincoln is an amazing, diverse school, but it’s also one the most economically disadvantaged in the district,” said Denny “Trey” Darnell, Lincoln parent and chair of the playground project. “We knew we’d have to get creative if we were going to achieve that lofty goal, so we reached out to community partners.”

Lincoln celebrates its centennial in 2021.

“Our school has a long and storied history,” Darnell added. “We decided to reach out to notable alumni.”

It was a unique angle that paid off — literally.

“PTO President Jessica Slaughter reached out to retired City Manager Jeff Fleming, a Lincoln alumnus,” Darnell said.

“I was honored to be asked and amazed at the response,” Fleming said. “It dawned on me that many mayors, Board of Education members, city managers, and business people who have shaped Kingsport as adults spent their formative years at Lincoln. We wanted to send a message to current Lincoln students that Kingsport’s future may be walking your halls right now.”

“Business leaders, foundations, neighbors, parents, grandparents, friends, teachers, and current students all came together for the love of Lincoln School,” Darnell added.

“We even reached out to neighbors that didn’t currently have school-aged children as well as businesses and professional offices near the school,” Darnell added. “We wanted to emphasize our school zone, not tap all of the same citywide donors that everyone else asks all the time.

“The entrepreneurism and creativity flowed,” he added. “One donor made custom dog treats and gave 100% of the $1,200 in sales to our cause.”

“This is exactly what being a neighborhood school means. It’s not only about the students who attend now. It’s about the many lives impacted over the course of a lifetime,” Principal Suzanne Zahner said.

“We turned to our students to research and develop the needs and design a concept,” she said. “Some of their early sketches are very close to what is actually being built. I can’t tell you how exciting it is for students to be involved from concept to fruition. It inspires them, cultivates hope, and impacts them in so many positive ways.”

The Lincoln playground is projected to be completed in August 2021.

“It sends a strong message to the students that what you dream and believe, you can achieve. These are lessons that they will take with them for a lifetime,” Darnell added.