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Kennedy Coyotes try out new playground

Rick Wagner • Aug 3, 2019 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — Ever since Janice Irvin become principal of Kennedy Elementary School in the Lynn Garden community more than three years ago, she dreamed of a new playground for the Kennedy Coyotes.

Friday afternoon, her dream came true in Kennedy blue. Even the expected rain did not materialize during or after the ribbon cutting for the playground, which is designed to accommodate children of all abilities, including those in wheelchairs. The rain came more than an hour later.

“There’s not a proper playground in Lynn Garden. So we’re excited to be that,” Irvin said during Kennedy’s Back to School Bash before the playground ribbon cutting and unveiling that began shortly before 3:30 p.m. “Our lack of an equitable playground kept us up at night.”

HOW WAS PROJECT FUNDED?

The school’s parent teacher association, the public, parents, staff, faculty and others donated to the cause, but the project became a reality after the Kingsport City Schools Board of Education had a major shift and changed a policy so the school system could put money toward school playgrounds, something it hadn’t done in the past. During her talk to the group gathered at the playground, she recalled that Pat Shull, who was elected mayor earlier this year and was in the audience, was the first public contributor to the project.

The project cost was $348,354, including $45,210 paid by fundraising. Armstrong Construction of Kingsport installed the playground. Some of its surfaces are “poured in place” but some outlying areas are covered with wood fibers.

WHY ARE ELEMENTARY PLAYGROUNDS IMPORTANT?

“Play is essential for kids,” Irvin said. “There’s so much you learn in play, cooperation and taking turns.”

Working together is another lesson of playgrounds, said Irvin, who began at Kennedy in July 2016.

WHO SPEARHEADED THE EFFORT?

Although Irvin during the ceremony said she couldn’t thank everyone who had been involved with the project because there were so many and she’d forget some, Superintendent Jeff Moorhouse told the crowd Irvin’s name would be at the top of that list. She ran a half-marathon in Cincinnati to raise money and helped spearhead other fundraising efforts, some of which got national media attention.

“The person that really made this happen was her,” Moorhouse said of an effort that Irvin started when former school board members were in office. 

“This is a big deal,” Moorhouse said. “Great things are happening in Lynn Garden.”

WHO CAN USE IT?

After the ribbon cutting with the obligatory big scissors, students ran and rolled wheelchairs to try out the new playground.

“I want to go down the slide. I’m going to get stuck,” one girl said as she raced to the playground equipment.

Nearby, a mother rode in a rocking swing with her son in a wheelchair, while other children tried out spinning cups open to all students but specifically designed to help soothe those with autism. The cups resemble cereal bowls.

Irvin said the playground after school hours will be open to the public and that birthday parties and other such events will be allowed, with rules about its use to be formulated and posted soon.

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