Pirates Paradise Playground to get major upgrade

January 19, 2024

The nearly 30-year-old wooden portion of the playground.

Pirates Paradise Playground to get major upgrade

Pirate News is a presentation of Hart Public Schools in partnership with Oceana County Press.

By Allison Scarbrough, News Editor

HART — The nearly 30-year-old wooden portion of the Spitler Elementary School playground will be replaced soon thanks to the hard work of the school’s Parent Teacher Organization.

The wooden structure was built by the community back in 1996, but a majority of it burned down about eight years later, said Spitler Elementary School Principal Brandon Bruce. “Most of the structure burned — somebody lit it on fire, and the current wooden structure is what is left.” 

A drawing of the new playground structure that will be installed this summer.

About 75 percent of the wooden structure was destroyed in the arson. The arsonist or arsonists were never caught despite a $500 reward that was offered by the school and a $5,000 reward that was offered through the Arson Hotline, according to previous media reports.

“It was devastating for the community because of the work that was put into it.”

Now, 20 years after the horrible fire, the school is going to replace the remaining wooden structure due to its age.

“Our PTO has done a great job raising funds, and decided now is the time to do it.” PTO President Ellen Slotman and Vice President Amber Burden have been working diligently to raise funds for the new playground equipment, said Bruce.

A drawing of the new tire swing to be installed.

The new playground equipment is expected to arrive some time this winter, said Bruce, and the plan is to erect it in the summer. The other components of the playground will remain — just the wooden portion is being replaced.

“After school lets out, we will have to take out the wooden structure and then have a ‘community build,’” said the principal. “It will be nice to have that ‘community build’ again. We’ll have some sweat equity into it. People will be able to say, ‘Hey, I helped install that.’ There is a generation of folks that helped build it in ‘96 — who had a lot of pride in that — and now they will be able to do something like that again.”

The new playground equipment was purchased through a $17,461 grant from Gametime and active fundraising by the PTO. “PTO spent $23,600 through previous fundraisers and

A drawing of the new ADA swing that will be added. It will be red.

the grant for the new equipment,” said Slotman. The Hart Rotary Club has generously committed to providing $5,500 for a tire swing and an ADA-compliant swing.

“The playground that we have is used all year round,” said Bruce. “With this implement going in, there will be space for add-ons.” 

Instead of having professionals construct the new playground at a cost of approximately $20,000, the PTO opted for a “community build,” which will total approximately $5,000. 

“The story of the first playground is that it was all built by volunteers as well,” said Slotman. 

The school has actively raised funds for the American Heart Association over the last several years. Now, those fundraising efforts will be concentrated on the playground. “It’s been a great fundraiser for a great organization, but we’re going to step back from the American Heart Association and take that same time frame and will go towards the playground.”

In the coming weeks, Spitler students will begin fundraising for the playground as they have done in the past for the American Heart Association. Students will win prizes for certain dollar amounts that they raise as a friendly competition among both students and classrooms. The students’ fundraiser will be available online at Spitler Playground Upgrade Challenge at the beginning of February. 

“We have loftier goals of an outdoor classroom if we go above and beyond,” said Slotman. 

The wooden portion of the playground has reached the end of its life span and needs to be replaced. The playground is not unsafe to use, but it could get to that point if the equipment is not replaced, said Bruce. “It is 30 years old. If you have a 30-year-old deck, it needs to be replaced.”

“Ellen and Amber have worked their tails off on this, and we are extremely grateful for the PTO,” said Bruce. “This is also a great community that wants what is best for the kids.” 

If someone would like to get involved in the community construction of the playground, email SpitlerPTO@hart.k12.mi.us.  Donations can be made at Spitler Playground Upgrade Challenge.

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Students walk past the playground at the end of a recent school day.

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