In 1988, the Lynchburg community came together to fund and build a large wooden playground at Linkhorne Elementary School (LES), a location dubbed then as “Play At Linkhorne” or PAL. Since then, PAL has been a place for everyone to enjoy, not just students at the school.
“People will bring their grandchildren to PAL. People that go to other local elementary schools will come to play. It really is a neighborhood playground,” said Stacey Felmlee, former LES Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) president.
Unfortunately, about 10 years ago, the structure really started to show its age. Parts of the playground had to be removed due to rotting or splintered wood that was unsafe for children.
Fast forward to 2012—Felmlee decided it was past time to take action. “We knew the time had finally come to replace the beloved playground, which had far exceeded its original 15-year lifespan,” she said.
Felmlee and the PTO were excited to learn Lynchburg City Schools would put $50,000 toward a new playground. “But we were also shocked at how little $50,000 produced in playground equipment,” she said.
However, they didn’t let a steep price tag keep them from their goal. In early 2013, the LES PTO decided to begin a $100,000 fundraising campaign and fully replace PAL in two additional phases.
“We marketed it as a community project because it really benefits the whole community and not just the school children at LES,” said Felmlee.
Over the next three years, their efforts included grant writing, two Walk-a-Thons and grassroots efforts like classroom piggy banks. PTO members also secured donations from businesses like MH Masonry, who donated materials and labor to build a brick walkway leading up to the playground.
The most community involvement came from a campaign to sell engraved bricks for that walkway to LES families, community members and even individual classes.
The PTO also reached out to the community for sponsors, and donations of more than $500 are recognized on a new kiosk beside the playground equipment, marking the true completion of the project.
Aside from raising the funds, Felmlee and some other PTO members also played a big role in designing the new playground. They customized the features to ensure the equipment would accommodate children up to age 12 and encourages movement, balance, upper body strength and collaboration. Some of the biggest attractions for children are a climbing wall, numerous slides and swings, and a zip line.
“The new playground is so much bigger, and there are so many more things to do. You don’t know which one to go to first,” said Felmlee’s 9-year-old daughter Lexi.
The LES PTO also put a lot of thought into what the new playground would look like aesthetically.
“The original playground was all wood and had a natural look. When we moved to this material, we wanted to keep it as natural as possible so we chose mostly browns and greens,” said Felmlee.
And no one misses that original natural element, especially the kids.
“The wood was a pain in the butt!” said 9-year-old Cooper Payne, who enjoys spending time playing on the new equipment. “One time, I got a splinter in my palm, and my parents had to use a needle to get it out.”
Thanks to a generous community and a dedicated mom, parents are spending less time at home playing nurse and more time hearing about all of the fun things their kids get to do at the community’s newest playground.
“It was a long three-year endeavor for sure. But to see the kids play and have the positive feedback…it’s all very rewarding,” said Felmlee.
By Shelley Basinger | Photos by LaShonda Delivuk