Elementary students in Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools can look forward to new playground equipment when they return to school Wednesday, Aug. 15.

Judy Hengstebeck, the district's communications coordinator, said parent-teacher associations and organizations, as well as the Gahanna-Jefferson Education Foundation, have supported updating and enhancing playgrounds for many years.

"Now the district is pleased to be able to tie everything together with a sensible plan that addresses all the playgrounds across the district," she said.

Scott Lofton, the district business director, said the cost of the new playground amenities is $750,000.

He said the funding is coming from a 2.16-mill permanent-improvements levy voters approved in November 2014.

"We couldn't be more thankful for the support provided by our community, with permanent-improvement money that makes this possible," Hengstebeck said. "The kids are going to flip when they see all the changes waiting for them when they come back to school."

In December 2017, Lofton said, the district contracted with Southwest Buckeye Services to assess playgrounds and help leaders understand how playgrounds could be updated to make them safe and accessible.

"We chose DWA Recreation because they use Play On! as their foundation to design the playgrounds," he said. "Play On! aligns with SHAPE America Standards, which promotes fitness and fun on the playground."

He said the playground designs provide meaningful ways for schools and recreation professionals to effectively address health and wellness initiatives, and provide active play through the use of six key play elements that promote fitness. Those elements are balancing, brachiating (using the arms to swing), climbing, spinning, sliding and swinging.

Sue Wieging, Gahanna-Jefferson director of special education, said renovations include access to the playground itself and pieces of equipment.

"Current students who have gross motor-balance issues or are not ambulatory and use a wheelchair currently have difficulty getting to the equipment because the surface was not accessible," she said.

"There is a new rubber-like surface being installed at all of the six elementary schools. This will allow students increased safety when they transition from the building to the playground structures," she said.

Wieging said the climbing structures being replaced or added to each playground include accessible features for a range of motor abilities and needs.

"There will be varied and different levels of bars students will be able to hang from. There will be interactive toys on the equipment for students to use.

"There will be different ways students will be able to go under and climb on the playground -- some that use arms to crawl and others that can use legs to climb.

"And there will be varied equipment installed that will include adapted seating for students to be able to safely sit in, such as adapted swings, merry-go-rounds and teeter totters with harnesses when needed," she said.

Wieging said at times, some children simply couldn't play on some of the equipment.

"It was clear we needed change for all children," she said. "These changes allow all students to play more inclusively on all the areas of the playground vs. only select areas.

"Teachers and therapists have always facilitated and encouraged interactive gross motor play during recess. ... These changes will increase that play and allow it to happen more naturally and independently," Wieging said.

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