- Associated Press - Sunday, January 31, 2016

BENTONVILLE, Ark. (AP) - Bright Field Middle School fifth-graders hope someday they will get to use a playground they helped design.

About 90 groups of students got a chance Monday to pitch their ideas to Mayor Bob McCaslin and Parks and Recreation Department representatives for the development of two parks near the school.

The event, which resembled a science fair, attracted several hundred students and parents to the school, the culmination of a nearly three-month project. City officials took notes on the students’ presentations and will consider the input as they move forward on the park plans.

“I don’t know if we’ll use someone’s exact design,” said David Wright, the city’s parks and recreation director. “We may take 30 percent of one design, 30 percent of another, and 40 percent of another. We’ll try to use the amenities a large number of the kids suggested, and really provide a playground structure that meets the needs of those youngsters.”

The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (http://bit.ly/1UrhAYl ) reports that most students worked in groups to develop their playground proposals. They had a choice of working on one of two parks: Wildwood Park, on Bright Road near the intersection of Southwest Regional Airport Boulevard, or Citizens Park at the Bentonville Community Center.

Wildwood Park is to be renovated this year. The city has $75,000 budgeted for the project. Citizens Park also will be gaining a playground sometime soon, but neither a timeline nor a budget has been set for that park, Wright said.

The project was organized by Bright Field’s three fifth-grade science teachers: Amy Cox, Diedra Gauw and Stephanie Shinabery. It began with exploration of how scientific concepts such as gravity and friction come into play on the playground.

“We want them to know science is everywhere. It’s not just in the science classroom,” Shinabery said. “We want them to take what they’re learning in class and take it out to play.”

Shinabery said the teachers talked to Wright, who suggested the students provide their input on upcoming city playground projects. Wright made two trips to the school within the last six weeks to discuss the matter with students.

“The thing I was most excited about was just how seriously the kids took this project,” Wright said.

Most groups used laptop computers to present their plans with PowerPoint. Some groups also used poster boards and physical models to sell their designs.

A group of five students, which touted its “Forest of Fun” design, passed out business cards. Its table at Monday’s event featured an elaborate model of the group’s design, which one student said took three days to make. A large banner hanging behind their table was especially eye-catching.

Each group was required to present a cost — including taxes — associated with its plan. Ethan Helm, who worked on the Forest of Fun, said he had “no idea” taxes cost so much.

Daniel Podczask, dressed in suit and tie, gave the presentation for his group’s plan for Citizens Park. He discussed each piece of equipment the group had chosen while showing a picture of it on his laptop. One of the pieces was the Merry-Go-All, a modern version of the merry-go-round.

“I’ve been on it many times,” Daniel said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

The total cost of the group’s plan would be $361,251, which came in under the budget, Daniel said.

Aaron Tong and Jake Hokanson presented their group’s plan for Citizens Park. It was full of features, such as an elevated sandbox, that could be used by a person sitting in a wheelchair.

“Our goal for this playground was to make a place where the people of Bentonville could unite as one,” Aaron said.

Lee Farmer, recreation services manager for the Parks and Recreation Department, said he was impressed by the students’ presentations.

“I’ve been blown away,” Farmer said.

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Information from: Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.nwaonline.com

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