New playground centers on fun, learning and safety

Coastal Point • Laura Walter: TOTS children sing a thank-you song at the ribbon-cutting on Jan. 19.Coastal Point • Laura Walter: TOTS children sing a thank-you song at the ribbon-cutting on Jan. 19.These 4-year-olds don’t care that they’re learning motor skills or socialization. They’re just excited to play on their new playground equipment at the Transitioning Our Toddlers to School (TOTS) program.

In Frankford, the Indian River School District’s TOTS program serves 60 special-education preschoolers. Now, those youngsters have an age-appropriate playground, built in a small courtyard at the G.W. Carver Educational Center.

Previously, staff had to chase kids around the massive playground left onsite by the former Frankford Elementary School, said teacher Noël Lenhart.

Now, they’ll be safely contained within four sunny walls, with a multitude of playground equipment, including four slides, a castle, swings, a sand table, water table and more.

Homer Coates was amazed to see the courtyard transition from utilitarian to playful. Representing the Carl M. Freeman Foundation (and a $5,000 donation), Coates said he couldn’t believe that the giant stormwater drain on the site was so effectively hidden by a large pergola.

Rather than spend money on grading and seeding the drain, IRSD staff envisioned a concrete pad where children can play or learn, covered with picnic tables and protected by a roof, that disguised the drain.

“They love all the things they can drive around, push around,” said TOTS Program Director Loretta Ewell, pointing to wheelbarrows and plastic wheeled vehicles.

Kids began running, jumping, pushing and sliding in this new spot on Dec. 1. Although the bitter cold prevented the children from personally showing off the new playground at the Jan. 19 dedication, they sang their gratitude: “Thank you so much. We love it.”

Many people made the Boundless Energy Playground happen, including custodians who built it; teachers and staff who helped; donors who funded it; Ad-Art, which provided a sign; and the Special Education Department and IRSD Board of Education, which approved additional funds.