The current playground at Peosta Elementary. One major planned change will involve replacing the mulch flooring with rubber mats and upgrading with new kinds of equipment.

On June 2, Peosta Elementary Parents (PEP) invites the public to attend their Kickoff to Summer event at Peosta Elementary School from 5-7:30 p.m. This event is intended to allow families to socialize, as well as act as a fundraiser and communicator about PEP’s new school playground project.

PEP is a non-profit 501©3 whose purpose is to enhance and support the educational experience at Peosta Elementary and develop a stronger connection between school and home through the encouragement of parent and community involvement. Currently, their major project is the construction of a new larger playground at the school which will be both accessible and inclusive to all children, including those with various sorts of disabilities, physical and otherwise. According to PEP President Emily Schmerbach, their current project to make changes to the school playground was initially less ambitious and began in the fall of 2019

“What we were going for was to change the mulch to rubber mats to make getting across the playground easier for students with wheelchairs and medical equipment,” said Schmerbach. “We were throwing some ideas around and then COVID-19 happened, so all our plans essentially got shut down in March and we were just waiting. We had a DRA grant we’d written, but they stopped doing grants at the time, so we put it on pause.”

Over the summer of 2020, six new classrooms were added to Peosta Elementary, raising concerns that the playground might not be large enough to accommodate the increased number of students now in the school. This was key in changing PEP’s ambition from a change of surface material to an entire playground redesign.

“Kids are on the playground waiting in line for the swings,” said Schmerbach. “We also had some complaints about the mud because they were getting so muddy in the mulch that they’d keep them on the cement if it was rainy. We decided we needed to change this. In October we started talking about what we can do and where we can go with this, but we had lots of restrictions. In January we talked with the district and got the ok on a popcorn fundraiser, so we did that with the families and students in Peosta Elementary. We raised $5,000 from that.”

While a good start, the proceeds from the popcorn sale and a donation of $500 by Crossroads Nutrition were only a small fraction of the estimated $95,000 required for the playground’s design and construction. Schmerbach hopes the Kickoff to Summer fundraiser will go a long way to meeting their goal, as every food truck attending the event has agreed to donate a portion of their proceeds to the playground. These businesses will include Adobos, Buenie Bottoms, Dinger D’Lites, Town Clock Pizza, Koppes Kreations and Dairy Association Ice Cream Truck.

In addition to raising funds, the event will also be a time for the public to learn more about the playground’s plans and design.

Schmerbach added, “We will have a table of our new playground plans on display for everyone to see. Our current playground was built 15 years ago and at that time, they didn’t offer the accessible and inclusive equipment they do now. From the new types of slides and swings, sensory activities and the ground level activities they have now, we have such great options to choose from. By upgrading our playground to an accessible and inclusive playground we are removing barriers between kids, despite any differences and giving them a chance to play and grow together. We want to put in the playground tiles for easier access, mobility and safety. The tiles have a little bounce, great durability and are shock absorbent, which helps keep kids safe at varying heights. We really want a play environment where everyone can feel included and do what all kids want to do, play and have fun.”

As the event will be held outdoors, masks and social distancing will not be required and Schmerbach believes both the event and the new playground will be something everyone in Peosta can enjoy and benefit from.

“Our playground is open to the public after hours, on weekends, and all summer long, so it really is a community playground as well. We’re getting the City of Peosta involved and seeing if there’s other people around who’d like to donate. So far, we’ve had extremely excited feedback from parents and staff. If this goes well, it could be an annual event.”