By Greg Gelpi
A grass roots campaign is under way to transform a grassy field into a playground.
Leadership Clayton takes on three projects each year. One of the projects this year is to raise money to purchase playground equipment for Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary.
King Elementary opened this school year, but has an empty field, rather than a field with playground equipment.
"What's sad is you go there and all these tiny little munchkins run around with no equipment," Dan Adams, a volunteer in the Leadership Clayton class, said.
Leadership Clayton and the school sent out more than 700 letters to members of the chamber to raise money for playground equipment.
"You can't just get a bunch of parents together, dig a hole and put in the equipment," Adams said.
The goal for the project is to raise $35,000, which would fund two phases of the playground equipment, making one playground for kindergarten to second grade and one for third to fifth grades.
Tonee Bell was surprised to learn the school didn't have a playground when he dropped his 8-year-old son SeDhare off at school, so he began the effort to change that.
"I've always been the kind of parent that is very actively involved," he said. "When you drop your child at school, you don't just say ?teach.' If the school system does not have enough money to build a playground, then the community must build a playground."
Last year, Tonee Bell was named the Riverdale Middle School Volunteer Parent of the Year for his work at that school.
"It was funny how other schools called me," he said. "They said they heard I help build playgrounds."
A bid from Leisure Lines in Morrow was chosen for the equipment at King Elementary.
"What's cool about it is that they're here in Clayton County," Adams said. "The money stays here in Clayton County. It shows Clayton County taking care of Clayton County."
About 80 percent of the 892 students at King Elementary come from low-income families.
The school system is funding the construction of new schools and the renovation of existing schools through a 1-cent special purpose local option sales tax. SPLOST, though, is not used for the addition of playground equipment, John Ramage, the assistant superintendent of facilities, construction and purchasing, said.
"We just don't put any money into our new schools for playground equipment," Ramage said. "I'm assuming I probably could, but we're trying to spend our money on classrooms."
With a limited amount of money, the school system must make choices, and the choice to construct classrooms to replace the 598 trailers used as temporary classrooms is a
priority for the system, he said.
"Money just goes so far," Ramage said. "It's a good thing to get parents involved."
He said it is the responsibility of the individual school to purchase and install playground equipment. It is not included in the "initial construction" of the school. Ramage said the school system does reserve a field for playground-like activities at each school.
Jackson Elementary, another county school, has no playground equipment either. Ramage said most elementary schools have found a way to purchase equipment.