Companies pitch in to help out Oliver Elementary

Marty Zulauf, 8, a third-grader at Oliver Elementary School, 15840 S.E. Taylor St., Portland, remembers his school’s old OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Students at Oliver Elementary School enjoy the new playground. Old playground equipment was repainted, and new equipment was added.

“It just had a jungle gym and swings,” he says. “It was OK.”

Now his school has a new playground, he adds.

“It’s much funner and much better,” he says. “It has more things that you can play on, and it has a lot more room for kids to play.”

Indeed, the newly renovated playground features a fresh paint job; two climbing structures with slides; a zip line; a kickball field with a backstop; a big tic-tac-toe game; and basketball hoops fitted for both younger and older students.

Zulauf’s mother, Tiffany Lenocker, was part of the parents’ group that helped raise funds to renovate the playground. She says she and other folks at Oliver have noticed a difference this year in the students when they return from recess.

“When they’re done playing and running and screaming, they go back to class and just sit and focus,” she says.

Austin Black, 10, a fifth-grader, agrees.

“When we came back this year it was a lot better,” she says. “This one has a lot more things and a lot more things to do on it. There’s more things for little kids and the big kids. Last year there were not too many kids on the play structure, but this year there’s a lot of kids.”by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Montana Fewell, left, and Morgan Flemming play in the new tire swing at Oliver Elementary School.

Companies pitch in

Ben Egbers, principal for the past five years at Oliver, says the difference between the old and new playground for the school’s 385 students, the vast majority of whom come from low-income families, is like the difference between night and day.

“We had one climbing structure, and the two tire swings were broken on that,” he says, adding there was a “treated lumber post with little metal bars so kids could climb on it. It looked like an accident waiting to happen. They kind of crowded onto that climbing structure, and there was a lot of milling around and just walking around.”

Brenda Salsgiver, an education assistant at Oliver, helped coordinate the effort to get a new playground.

“There hadn’t been an improvement on the playground in 20 years,” she says, describing the old area as “six swings, a dilapidated old play structure and two rickety old metal tables.”

Two years ago, she urged the school to make an effort to get a new playground and approached her brother-in-law, Dave Andersen of Andersen Construction, who agreed to help out with the project. Along with Andersen, she credits Parrish Excavating, W.E. Given Contracting and WCTJ Painting for donating labor and materials.

“It was untold generosity from these companies to help our little school,” she says. “They came here out of the goodness of their hearts and donated to us.”

She estimates the companies gave tens of thousands of dollars worth of free labor and supplies, and notes dozens of volunteers from the various companies showed up, “and they had a good time doing it.”

She also credited Papa’s Pizza and Milo’s Espresso for donating food and beverages to the construction crews.

Adele Henry, community outreach coordinator for Andersen, notes 20 company employees volunteered their time to help out with the playground. Sometimes during the summer, folks walking by as the crews worked came over to lend a helping hand, she adds.

“The playground equipment was quite complex putting together,” she says, noting crews enjoyed the challenge. “It’s always nice to give back to children in need.”

Better students

Egbers says the new playground’s impact on students can be measured in children’s attitudes. Although he can’t solely credit the new playground for improving students’ demeanor, there does seem to be a relationship between children blowing off steam outside as opposed to blowing it off in the classroom.

“This year compared to last year is quite a bit better behaviorally,” he says, adding the school has hired four school parents part-time to play with and supervise the children in the new playground.

“It’s freed up our school staff to focus on learning,” he says, noting the school no longer has to schedule around times when staff would be on the playground.

Charise Chernis, who teaches at Centennial, says students used to have more conflicts during recess, with “a lot of mouthing off at each other.” Now, however, “I’ve noticed

disrespect is down; my students love being out there.”

Denise McIntyre, parent-teacher organization president, says the group sold cookie dough, held a bazaar and carnival, and hosted a movie night, a bingo night and a wrestling match to raise money for the project, which also used Centennial School District funds. McIntyre, grandmother to three children at Oliver — Luis Fulgencio, 7, in first, Kaydence Swasey, 8, in second, and Zulauf — says she’s already noticed a difference in the little ones.

“They are excited to go to school because they have some place to go and play after lunch,” she says. “They are excited to be with their friends.”

Egbers says he’s pleased to see how the playground has inspired the Oliver community.

“There’s an energy growing around our school, and to put a tangible product out there associated with that, like the playground, is really satisfying,” he says.

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