A place to play

Toward the end of the school year, students at Lawton Elementary in Magnolia were faced with a less than ideal situation when it came time for recess.

More than a decade old, the school’s playground wasn’t in great shape.

“We literally didn’t even have a slide that was functional,” said principal Dorian Manza.

But when students are back in class on Sept. 7, they’ll have an entirely new play area at their disposal.

On Saturday, dozens of volunteers assembled the new playground equipment during a community build day at the school.

“The parents are so supportive, the community is so supportive, and it’s awesome,” Manza said, “but it doesn’t surprise me.”

The event was one of the final steps of a three-year process to replace the school’s aging playground.

Kathryn Ficarra, who spent the last two years at PTA co-president, and serves on the school’s playground committee, was thrilled to reach the construction portion of the process.

“I can’t even believe we’re to this point,” she said. “I remember sitting in the office, talking about the community build day a long time ago and to believe that we’re actually here and seeing the playground get constructed actually is mind blowing to me, and probably the most exciting thing I’ve done at this school.”

However, it did take some convincing to get enough volunteers on a Saturday morning.

“It’s hard,” Ficarra said. “You’re in the middle of summer. There’s a lot of families that are away, but I’m so appreciative of the people that really gave up their weekend. It’s not easy, people have to find childcare, they’re carving out a full day, it’s a lot to ask of people.”

But the impact of the community assistance also comes with a dollar figure: Ficarra said that by doing a buildout with volunteers, they were able to save approximately $25,000. In total, the project’s cost was tabbed at around $350,000, including everything from the equipment to architect fees.

Among those hard at work on Saturday was Anthony Spinelli, who has a daughter about to enter the second grade at Lawton.

Spinelli, who had previously helped with the fundraising and coordinating earlier phases of construction, said it’s always nice to help out the community and the school.

“I think they’re all going to be very excited,” he said. “Now that’s it’s taking shape, it’s really impressive.”

And while some may question the value of play in the learning experience, Manza stressed the importance of the new playground in his students’ development. 

“One of the philosophies is that one of the best ways kids learn is through play, active play,” Manza said, “especially when you’re going to elementary school, and learning how to play and play with other children and different types of equipment. I think for the learning experience to be able to have this is awesome.”

Now, all that’s left is for students to actually make use of the new space when school starts in a couple of weeks.

“As excited as the adults are,” he said, “I think we’re going to be 10 times more excited when we actually get to see the kids play on it when school kicks off.”

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