When Pittsburgh Minadeo PreK-5 parent Tracy Royston looked at the vast expanse of bare concrete surrounding her school in Squirrel Hill four years ago, she saw a blemish on the landscape—and possibilities.
“There was no play equipment whatsoever,” Royston says. “It was an asphalt, blighted spot, and a pretty blighted, depressing place for kids.”
She knew that not only does Pittsburgh Public Schools lack the funds to build playgrounds at the moment, it also requires groups wanting to sponsor such equipment to acquire their own insurance for its use—an expensive proposition.
But with one of the more diverse populations among grade schools—it also draws kids from Greenfield, Hazelwood, Homewood and other neighborhoods—Minadeo parents knew there were not enough safe places to play. “We said to the kids, let’s start envisioning what we want from a playground,” Royston reports. The kids wanted everything from climbing rocks to monkey bars. So they began collecting pennies for the playground.
The Minadeo parents held fundraisers and gathered a grant from the state for obesity prevention and one from the Grable Foundation, which supports a large number of local children’s educational efforts. The district resurfaced the asphalt. Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition emerged as the project’s charitable sponsor. And then-councilman Doug Shields and his successor Corey O’Connor pitched in the rest of the money for playground construction company GameTime to go to work.
“We really talked to GameTime about keeping the kids active, what kinds of things would keep kids moving,” Royston says. The new equipment, already in use, opens officially with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 30 at 6 p.m. It has a four-holed ball drop and a large play structure with a sloped climbing area, slide, poles and landing pads, a sliding pulley, a spinner and, yes, monkey bars.
Getting everything ready for the spring was touch and go, Royston says. “The weather this year kind of terrorized us. The winter was terrible. It had to be a certain temperature for the surface to set. I had the custodians and the principals on speed dial.”
“We waited a long time and the kids are really happy,” she adds. “It’s one of those things that I get kind of emotional about, just looking at those kids out there and playing, all so happy and knowing they were a part of it … it’s already more than I hoped for. And it’s great because you know it will be there for years and generations to come.”