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Robinson poised for new playground for special education students

Rick Wagner • Updated Apr 22, 2016 at 12:45 PM

KINGSPORT — Plans are for Robinson Middle School to get a new playground geared toward the needs of middle school special education students, replacing one with equipment that originally was meant for pre-kindergarten students.

It would join Johnson Elementary School’s planned replacement of its iconic “castle” playground from the early 1990s and comes as Kingsport plans its centennial celebration next year.

In a presentation to the Kingsport Board of Education at its Thursday night work session, Robinson Principal Brian Partin and special education teachers Vicki Sewell and April Hite presented preliminary plans, including designs submitted by two different playground companies, and cost estimates ranging from about $105,000 to $118,000. The three said the goal is to raise all the money needed from grants, community groups and other funding sources outside the school system.

The board seemed receptive to the plans, and Superintendent Lyle Ailshie said he would place an agenda item on the consent agenda for the May 3 meeting to approve the school proceeding further with the plans.

From two firms submitting proposals, the school got three potential plans. Recreational Concepts of Cookeville, Tenn., submitted one for $118,873.04 that included artificial playground grass. PlayWorld Systems Inc. of Lewisburg, Pa., submitted two, one for $112,402.80 that included a slide and a second for $105,450.62 that did not. Both would use a rubber surface that could be embedded with color. 

The Johnson project, estimated to cost $250,000 plus donated items and volunteer time, was originally to be constructed during a six-day community build in the fall of 2016 by community volunteers, although BOE Vice President Susan Lodal indicated that might be moved to 2017. Johnson’s project would be a complete replacement of the current playground, like the Robinson one, although Johnson’s project is larger.

Partin said volunteer help could be used to defray some of the installation costs, an option Hite said has been discussed, but they said it would be preferable for the company chosen to do the installation for speed and safety.

The teachers said some of their special ed students are larger than some adults and don’t have a use for much of the equipment suited for elementary children. They also said wheelchair accessible equipment is needed.

BOE President Carrie Upshaw and Lodal expressed support for the idea, as did members Karen Reed-Wright, Todd Golden and Eric Hyche. Lodal suggested the school community might want to keep in mind the Johnson project and the city’s centennial celebration. Partin said that he did not believe the Robinson project would compete with the Johnson one and that the two can be done parallel to one another. He said the Johnson one might have access to special ed grants since its main purpose is to serve that group. The Johnson playground replacement plan includes handicapped and special needs accessibility, too.

Funding groups might include local civic clubs as well as grants from groups supporting special education. The two teachers said that special education students, including those with autism, like the motion of swings and that the designs emphasize moving and climbing. The playground would use the same space as the current one used by special ed students and would leave in place memorial trees honoring the dead.

The playground also could be used by physical education classes for all students at Robinson and by the community and other stakeholders after school hours.

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