A storm had just passed -- and that meant it was time for Hugh Peterson to get to work.

A storm had just passed -- and that meant it was time for Hugh Peterson to get to work.

Hugh and his friends built a small city in the sandbox at Heritage Elementary School, complete with a system of canals that directed rain water from one trench to the next.

The recent project was a typical one for the 9-year-old third-grader.

"A sandbox is one of the places where you can be most creative," he said. "You can make your own world and be very imaginative with it. You can build almost anything."

That's why Hugh was devastated when he returned to school the next day and found the sandbox blocked with caution tape.

Teachers at his school had determined the sandbox would be closed because too many students were tracking sand into the hallways after recess. Some were even bringing sand into the school intentionally, smuggling it in via their pockets.

"We're discovering that the sand ruins the finish on the floor," said Principal Susan Staum. "We're trying to burnish the floor and the sand almost creates a burn effect. It's really a nightmare for the appearance of the school."

Hugh wasn't convinced. He understood his teachers' concerns, but thought there were ways to save both the sandbox and the school floor.

Last week, he launched a "Save Our Sandbox" campaign. In three days, he collected 171 signatures from classmates, with the help of his brothers, Thomas, 7, and John, 5, who also attend Heritage.

He also penned a letter to Staum filled with ideas for keeping sand where it belongs: outside.

Teachers could enforce a strict rule against intentionally bringing sand into the school, he said. They could remind students to wipe their feet on the outdoor mats before coming inside with sand on their shoes.

To pacify teachers who think the sandbox attracts wild animals who use it like a litter box, Hugh said the school could get a sandbox cover.

"I do think the teachers have a point, but I have solutions," Hugh said.

He even went to a Heritage PTO meeting after school March 11 to talk about his campaign to save the sandbox.

He pointed out that 12 out of 15 Olentangy elementary schools have sandboxes.

Heritage Elementary School PTO Co-President Amy Keller said the group was happy to provide a forum for Hugh to make his case to school staff.

"Hugh gave an exceptional presentation and we all applaud his and his brothers' efforts," she said.

Hugh's parents said the campaign was his own idea. Hugh said he had heard about petitions before and knew they were used to gather support for a cause.

Staum said the school is contemplating alternatives to closing the sandbox, such as filling it with pea gravel instead of sand. She said Hugh's suggestions also are being considered.