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The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colorado)
Debbie Kelley, by Debbie Kelley -

A parent-driven charge to reduce the amount of scrapes and bruises their kids were coming home with is trumpeting victory.

By the time school starts in August, a large dirt and rock lot that abuts Gateway Elementary School's playground in Woodland Park School District RE-2 will be a multi-purpose, artificial turf field for school and community use.

The Gateway playground, as well as a community playground on school grounds, will be upgraded, all with the help of gambling money.

Great Outdoors Colorado, which uses a portion of Lottery proceeds to preserve and enhance the state's wildlife, parks, rivers, trails and open spaces, recently awarded the city of Woodland Park and the school district a $350,000 grant to help pay for the renovations.

The $520,000 project broke ground Thursday.

"It's going to make such a difference," said Cindy Keating, director of the city's parks and recreation department. "Can you imagine bright green grass in here?"

RE-2 Superintendent Jed Bowman said for 50 years, the 47,000- square-foot lot has been hard dirt and, therefore, the cause of many childhood injuries, as kids have taken a tumble while kicking soccer balls, flying kites and playing tag.

But the upgrades will benefit more than elementary school students.

"The high school marching band practices in that parking lot," Bowman said, nodding to where Woodland Park High School sits adjacent to Gateway, "and it makes me sad they're on hot asphalt. Not anymore."

Private donations, money from the Gateway parent-teacher organization, G.I.V.E. (Gateway Inspires Volunteers Everyday), and a $75,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment also helped get the project off the ground.

Rubber mulch made of recycled tires is being installed under existing playground equipment, and soon an 18-by-18-foot pavilion with a picnic table and bear-resistant trash can will be added. The chain link fence around the perimeter also will be upgraded.

The field, which will cost $265,000 to build, will be available for public use for all ages when school is not in session.

RE-2 will oversee construction and maintenance, said Ron Strong, operations manager.

Safety of the children and the ability for year-round use were the driving factors for the project, said parent Michelle Fischer, a professional grant writer who submitted the applications.

"It will benefit the students every day, the city's parks and recreation participants and the entire community," she said. "These projects matter."

The community field also will help fill a gap left when the Catholic church in Woodland Park, Our Lady of the Woods, decided to build a new church on part of a field it leases to the city for $1 a year.

Youth baseball and football are still allowed but not practices or games for older kids or adults, said Kathy Bonner, executive assistant to the pastor.

"We don't want big kids hitting the ball through the church windows," she said.

Great Outdoors Colorado primarily awards grants for parks and recreation projects to local governments and schools pair up with municipalities and counties to get grant money for school projects.

In 2011, another elementary school in Woodland Park, Columbine, renovated its preschool playground with a $75,000 grant from the organization, Keating said.

"In our city, you could look at almost every park we have, and there's GOCO money put into it," she said.

In this funding cycle, Great Outdoors Colorado approved nine grants worth $2.2 million in communities statewide.

Woodland Park was selected from a pool of 36 applicants.

"One of the things we look for when we fund community projects is a lot of community buy-in, and it was very apparent here," said Jake Houston of Great Outdoors Colorado, who attended Thursday's groundbreaking.


July 10, 2014




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