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New playground generating excitement for Norfolk school

October 3, 2018

Students, teachers and everyone involved are enthusiastic that the playground at Christ Lutheran School in Norfolk is coming back.

“I am really excited about it,” said Steve Stortz, Christ Lutheran principal.

The K-8 school, which also offers preschool classes and is associated with Helping Hands Child Care, had been without a formal playground for two years when the child care center was built. Ever since, the students had been using the school and church parking lot at 605 S. Fifth St. as a temporary playground.

“The kids (played) a lot of football and those kind of things on the parking lot,” Stortz said. “The amount of Band-Aids we go through is a whole other story.”

Stortz said this is the fourth playground that has been at the school.

Christ Lutheran Church, which operates the school, purchased the land north of the school for the new playground from a member of the congregation. The member covered the cost of the demolition and getting the ground ready to be used for the playground. The area is the size of three house lots, totaling about 170 feet by 200 feet.

The area now has a cement slab with a basketball court that is close to regulation size, as well as playground equipment and an open green area. Some of the equipment from the previous playground was used, Stortz said.

The playground is a factor that Stortz said parents consider when deciding where to send their children for school.

“When we took the playground down, our enrollment also dropped,” Stortz said. “That is a valid part of an education.”

John Robertson, a member of Christ Lutheran who works as the director of operations at Lutheran High Northeast, said the new playground is a combination of previous and new equipment.

“We tore a lot of the equipment down that we are going to be reinstalling,” he said. “We have also purchased several new pieces as well. There is one big playset and then another smaller playset, and then lots of monkey bars, swingsets and all kinds of little pieces.”

The ultimate appearance of the playground also has an aesthetic element, Robertson said.

In working with City of Norfolk officials, it was determined that Christ Lutheran could have installed a playground fence within 6 feet of the sidewalk along Fifth Street. But the decision ultimately was made to install a taller fence and have it 10 feet from the sidewalk.

“In doing that, (the city) requested that we soften the look,” Robertson said. “Rather than going clear up to the sidewalk ... they asked if we could do something to make it feel softer. That gave us an idea, and we have designed a pollinator garden.”

The pollinator garden will have a wide variety of plant species mixed into a landscaping design.

“It will also be a learning garden for the kids,” he said. “They can watch those plants grow and learn about each kind of plant, and they can watch the pollinators at work.”

When deciding whether to contract with a company to put the playground up or do a “community build,” Robertson said the biggest factor was cost.

To have the company come do the work was going to cost more than $20,000. The church and school decided that this would be a nice way for parents and congregation members to give back to the project.

The company that sells the equipment sent a contractor to be on site for the build over this past weekend to ensure that the equipment was put together properly. The rest of the work was done Friday through Sunday with volunteers.

“The heavy equipment and tools (had) to be provided by us,” Robertson said. “We have church members that have those pieces of equipment so they (donated) their equipment and their time.”

A donor from the church also provided the cement for the basketball court, also saving substantial money.

This playground has ground rubber mulch instead of other options, such as gravel or wood mulch.

The total estimated cost of the project was $425,000. The money for the project was raised through a congregational fund drive, Robertson said.

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